Last May, Deb Fallows wrote an account of a historical coincidence that linked The Atlantic Monthly of 150 years ago with the American Futures project we're doing for The Atlantic these days.
In the town of Columbus, Mississippi, part of the "Golden Triangle" of Mississippi we described in more than a dozen posts last year, a few Union soldiers killed at the battle of Shiloh were buried in the local cemetery along with the much larger number of Confederate soldiers. In 1866, four women from Columbus decorated the Confederates' graves and decided to honor those of the Union soldiers as well. They also sent notes condolence to the northern soldiers' families. Based on this act of commemoration and conciliation, Columbus, Mississippi considers itself (as do several other cities in America) as the originator of Memorial Day.
In 1867, The Atlantic Monthly published a poem called "The Blue and the Gray," by Francis Miles Finch, that was certainly based on the Columbus observances. Finch, who then lived in Ithaca, New York, had read newspaper accounts of the women's gesture and was moved to write a poem of tribute to them. Everything about today's Mississippi is shaded by the state's past 50 years, and past 150, and past 300—as people there are the first to recognize. For some of the ways people discussed these concerns with us, consider "The Endless Civil War Goes On," "The Endless Civil War, Continued," and "The Civil War That Does Not End."