Happy Memorial Day! We were in Columbus, Mississippi recently and learned of an amazing story that included these three elements: the Friendship Cemetery in Columbus, the origin of Memorial Day, and The Atlantic.
Here is the background: Columbus was a small town of about 6,000 people during the Civil War. Being near a rail line, Columbus received many mainly Confederate casualties of war, including those from the Battle of Shiloh in April, 1862, in nearby southwestern Tennessee. During the two days of that battle, a total of almost 3,500 soldiers were killed on both sides, and over 16,000 wounded. Columbus's share of the casualties led to its becoming well known as a hospital town.
By the war's end some 2,500 Confederate soldiers are thought to have been buried in the Friendship Cemetery in Columbus—along with, according to the National Archives, 32 Union soldiers as well. (As part of a nationwide effort to relocate Union soldiers to national cemeteries, those soldiers were later re-interred at Corinth National Cemetery, in northern Mississippi.)
A year after the war's end, in April, 1866, four women of Columbus gathered together to decorate the graves of the Confederate soldiers. They also felt moved to honor the Union soldiers buried there, and to note the grief of their families, by decorating their graves as well. The story of their gesture of humanity and reconciliation is now told and retold in Mississippi as being the occasion of the original Memorial Day.