A Decoration Day Divided

The holiday which we now commemorate as Memorial Day has its origins in the immediate years after the Civil War, when late-May rituals of remembrance and decoration of veterans’ graves emerged and evolved spontaneously and separately in both the North and the South. Given the prominent role played by the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) in the official adoption of the holiday in the North in the later 19th century, a rather divided commemoration continued all the way up to World War I, which united the nation in remembrance, and widened its circle to encompass American veterans of all conflicts. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress and placed on the last Month of May. And thus we have our national commemoration and commencement of summer (although weather-wise, the latter might apply only to the North). When tracing the earlier history of Decoration Day through paper, which is easy to do as it corresponds to the “golden age” of penny postcards and advertising inserts, the divided focus is readily apparent. The cards below are from a great archive of postcards produced by the famous British firm Raphael Tuck & Sons, which supplied both North and South with their commemorative cards.

Decoration Day Tuck North Flag

Decoration Day Tuck South Flag 1907

Raphael Tuck Grant 1911

Decoration Day Tuck Lee 1911

Decoration Day Tuck 1910

Decoration Day Tuck 1911 Blue and Gray

Decoration Day Tuck all wars

Flags unfurled, North and South, c. 1907; Remembering Generals Grant and Lee (with the U.S. flag sneaking into the latter scene), c. 1911; In a northern Attic, c. 1910; The Blue and the Gray come together just before the Great War; all veterans after (this last card is not a Tuck–you can probably see the difference in quality–and also unlike all the Tuck cards, it was not produced in then-hostile Germany).


4 responses to “A Decoration Day Divided

  • D.L. Cote

    Just back from the Memorial Parade and Services at Greenlawn, was glad to find your article. The cards have a romantic appeal of times past. But I have to say, what a disappointing turn out today. I can remember throngs of people gathered at Greenlawn Cemetary for the Memeorial Day Services, not so cool to support your country & veterans these days I guess.

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  • Brian Bixby

    I suspect the popularity of Memorial Day parades waxes and wanes both with the size and popularity of our wars. I recall major parades in my small town in my youth, when most WWII veterans were alive, healthy, and had large families, and Vietnam had not yet soured us on war.

    And let’s not forget that several Southern states celebrate Confederate Memorial Day, usually on a different date and not always under that name.

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  • Anna Worden Bauersmith

    Reblogged this on If I Had My Own Blue Box: and commented:
    I’ve been so absorbed in millinery lately, I haven’t spent as much time as I would like on the commemorative/memorial project. This post from Memorial Day, yesterday, reminded me that I really need to give it more attention to have enough together and ready for programs. Check out the vivid assortment of commemorative cards she shares.

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