This replica of a Civil War era 3-inch Parrott Rifle typically sits on the front lawn of the University of Louisville and was dedicated in Logan’s memory May 13, 1978, by retired Air Force Gen. Russell E. Dougherty, a 1948 graduate of the Brandeis School of Law. It is currently undergoing maintenance.
This replica of a Civil War era 3-inch Parrott Rifle typically sits on the front lawn of the University of Louisville and was dedicated in Logan’s memory May 13, 1978, by retired Air Force Gen. Russell E. Dougherty, a 1948 graduate of the Brandeis School of Law. It is currently undergoing maintenance.

The following story was originally published on May 25, 2005. It has been modified. 

As dignitaries gather at Arlington National Cemetery and towns across the nation this weekend to remember the men and women who have died in military service to the United States, it will be the continuing culmination of the vision of UofL law alumnus John Alexander Logan.

Logan, an 1851 law graduate, designated May 30 as a day to remember the nation’s war dead in 1868 when the physical and emotional scars of the Civil War were still fresh.

Local remembrances of the war’s dead had started even during the war, especially in the South, but Logan, a Union veteran and commander in chief of the veterans group the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), envisioned an observance that would be annual and national in scope.

In General Order No. 11 of the GAR, Logan called for the “strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land.” Hence the day became known as Decoration Day.

John A. Logan graduated with a law degree from the University of Louisville in 1851. (Photo from Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-B8172- 6403 DLC (b&w film neg.)])

Logan also asked that the observance “be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades,” and he called upon the press to help notify people in all parts of the country so everyone could take part in the remembrance on the same day.

New York officially recognized Decoration Day as a holiday in 1873, and it had become a holiday in all northern states by 1890. The South, however, did not adopt May 30 as its day of remembrance until after World War I when, with the number of Civil War veterans dwindling and that war fading from current memory, the holiday changed to one that honored Americans who died fighting in any war.

The National Holiday Act of 1971 set Memorial Day as the last Monday in May. The act provided a three-day weekend for all federal holidays. According to the U.S. Memorial Day organization, some Southern states continue to honor Confederate war dead on a separate day.

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Alicia Kelso
Alicia Kelso is editor of UofLNews and UofL Today. She joined UofL in 2015 as communications director of the Brandeis School of Law. Prior, she was the editorial director of foodservice media for Networld Media Group, where her work was featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Bloomberg, The Seattle Times, Good Morning America and Franchise Asia Magazine. She continues to serve as a contributor for many publications, including QSRweb.com, FastCasual.com and Innovation Leader.