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Could Memorial Day have started in Mississippi? This expert believes so

Friendship Cemetery memorial day
It is believed that Memorial Day had its beginnings at Friendship Cemetery in Columbus (Photo courtesy of Visit Columbus)

There’s no question that Memorial Day spurred from the Civil War, but could the holiday have been founded right here in Mississippi? One expert believes so.

“It happened during and right at the end of the Civil War with a great national outpouring of emotion about the number of people who had been killed in the Civil War,” veteran and military author Dr. Sidney Bondurant said. “It was on both the North and the South, so there’s a lot of controversy as to who gets credit for establishing Memorial Day.”

From Georgia to Mississippi to Pennsylvania to New York, a multitude of states were trying to claim credit for Memorial Day, but in May of 1966, Congress decided to award Waterloo, N.Y. origin rites to Memorial Day.

“Of course, Congress gets into the act, and they decided to award it to Waterloo,” Bondurant continued. “Later, historians had said that the claims for Waterloo are almost certainly bogus.”

So, where did it start? Bondurant thinks right here in Columbus, Miss.

“I personally feel it out to belong to Columbus, Mississippi,” he said. “Columbus, Mississippi’s claims to the first Memorial Day began when several ladies were decorating the graves of soldiers in cemeteries in Columbus. This was in 1866, so the Civil War had just ended a year before. They decorated both the Union and Confederate graves.”

Bondurant’s argument would be sensical as during the Civil War, Columbus had a population of about 6,000 and was located right next to a rail line. The easy access soon made Columbus one of the major hospital towns in the South. By the end of the war, over 2,500 Confederate soldiers, as well as 32 Union soldiers, were buried in Friendship Cemetery in Columbus.

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