I mentioned David Blight’s discovery of the first Memorial Day yesterday. For those who don’t know the story, here’s a NYTimes article written by the historian himself that goes into detail.
Sidenote: I first heard about this in one of Blight’s speeches at historical conferences and symposiums, many of which are available on Apple’s wonderful iTunes U. His off-the-cuff speaking style can be a bit digressive, but the content of his talks is always worth a listen.
But for the earliest and most remarkable Memorial Day, we must return to where the war began. By the spring of 1865, after a long siege and prolonged bombardment, the beautiful port city of Charleston, S.C., lay in ruin and occupied by Union troops. Among the first soldiers to enter and march up Meeting Street singing liberation songs was the 21st United States Colored Infantry; their commander accepted the city’s official surrender.
Whites had largely abandoned the city, but thousands of blacks, mostly former slaves, had remained, and they conducted a series of commemorations to declare their sense of the meaning of the war.