Sunday, May 29, 2011

Another First for Charleston - Memorial Day 1865

Charleston can boast of many "firsts" - the first theater in North America, the first opera performance in the New World (both events particularly relevant now with Spoleto - but more on that later), the first shot in the war between the states, the first time black U.S. soldiers were deployed in combat - the list goes on and on. Since this is Memorial Day weekend, let's talk about the very first Memorial Day - which occurred (of course) in Charleston. The account is as follows: During the Civil War, many U.S. soldiers died while imprisoned at the city's Washington Race Course (now the site of Hampton Park). When the war ended, freed slaves wanted to pay tribute to the fallen soldiers whose sacrifice had led to their freedom from bondage, so they laid flowers on the unmarked graves there. This is considered by many to be the first "memorial day." Later, other cities held similar acts of remembrance (and also claimed to have been first to commemorate the day). In 1868, when wreaths were laid on graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers in Arlington Cemetery, the observation became officially observed nationally. Today there is a marker at Hampton Park describing the very first memorial day.

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