Celebrated the 4th Monday in May
The South’s All Souls Day
In Columbus, Georgia, on April 9, 1866, the first anniversary of General Lee’s surrender, the ladies there did their honors, Mrs. Lizzie Rutherford Ellis of Columbus, Georgia, is credited for the first Confederate Memorial Day, along with Mrs. Anne Williams for her March 12, 1866, letter to the editor in the Columbus newspaper proposing the setting aside of April 26 annually as the observance of the South’s “All Soul’s Day”. Wikipedia
Confederate Memorial Day
The first Confederate Memorial Day service in Columbus was held on this site. [St. Luke Methodist Church] on April 26, 1866. The program was under the auspices of the Ladies Memorial Association, which was organized in the early spring of 1866 for the purpose of holding a Memorial service each year honoring the Confederate dead.
April 26, anniversary of the surrender of General Joseph E. Johnston, was selected as a suitable date for the Memorial Day. The Secretary of the Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus wrote to the Southern press proposing that the entire South join in the custom of an annual Confederate Memorial Day and suggesting April 26 as the date. The custom was inaugurated throughout the South and the date suggested was adopted. Since then, Confederate Memorial Services have been held in Columbus annually on that date. [Georgia Historical Commission Sign]
Gravestone of Lizzie Rutherford Ellis
buried in Linwood Cemetery, Columbus, GA
The Soldiers Friend and Suggestor of Memorial Day
Secretary Soldiers Aid Society
Voices have blest her now silent and dumb
Voices will bless her in long years to come
Married Roswell Ellis
Capt. Of the Columbus Guards
Nov. 23, 1868
Adolphus Skrine & Susan Thweatt Rutherford
Born June 1, 1833
Died Mar 31, 1873
Lizzie Rutherford Chapter
Daughters of the Confederacy
Elegy in Flowers
by Jacquelyn Cook [used with permission of the author]
Even hope seemed dead to Lizzie Rutherford as she stood looking at the graves in Linwood Cemetery. The cold January wind blowing off the Chattahooche River swirled her long skirts about her as she worked cleaning the graves of the Confederate soldiers. It was 1866 and the War — and everything else — was over.
The women had been busy in those last days of heavy fighting around Columbus, Georgia. Their Soldiers' Aid Society, organized in 1861 to knit and sew for the army, had ministered to the sick and dying in the hospital there. The ladies had even buried many of the soldiers themselves. Now their work seemed at an end. Their society was ready to disband.
While cleaning the graves, Lizzie Rutherford’s young mind began to see a new purpose. She told her friend Jane Martin of a novel, The Initials, which she had been reading. The story, written by Baroness Tautphoeus, related the custom of caring for the graves of dead heroes.
Would not the idea of setting aside a special day for decorating the graves of soldiers be a worthy project?
Excitedly she suggested to Mrs. John A. Jones that they reorganize their society for the specific purpose of memorializing the graves. Their group and many others had kept flowers on the graves of soldiers as a spontaneous act of love, but there had been no special day or organization behind their actions.
As Elizabeth Rutherford was the secretary of the society in Columbus, she called a meeting to present the idea of reorganizing into the Ladies' Memorial Association with the definite object of caring for the graves of these brave soldiers.
The meeting was held at the home of Mrs. John Tyler on the corner of Fourteenth Street and Fourth Avenue. The Ladies' Memorial Association was formally organized. Their first officers were elected, and even though Lizzie Rutherford was not present because of the illness of a relative, her resolution was accepted without opposition.
Lizzie Rutherford's cousin, Mrs. Charles J. Williams, who was secretary of the group was asked to write to Soldiers' Aid Societies throughout the South requesting that they unite in decorating the soldiers' graves on April 26th. A copy of her appeal was published in the Columbus Georgia Times as follows:
Columbus, GeorgiaThe plea to unite lifted the spirits of a crushed people. Even the army of occupation would not stop a memorial of flowers and speeches. Throughout the South, the call was answered.
March 12, 1866
The ladies are now, and have been for several days, engaged in the sad but pleasant duty of ornamenting and improving that portion of the city cemetery sacred to the memory of our gallant Confederate dead, but we feel that it is unfinished work unless a day be set apart annually for its special attention. We cannot raise monumental shafts and inscribe thereon their many deeds of heroism, but we can keep alive the memory of debt we owe them by dedicating at least one day in the year, by embellishing their humble graves with flowers, therefore we beg the assistance of the press and the ladies throughout the South to help us in the effort to set apart a certain day to be observed, from the Potomac to the Rio Grande .. .we propose the 26th day of April as the day. Let all alike be remembered from the heroes of Manassas to those who expired amid the death throes of our hallowed cause.
On April 26, 1866, at St. Luke’s Methodist Church in Columbus, a memorial address, thought to be the first delivered in the United States in honor of the soldiers who had fought in the War Between the States, was delivered by J. M. Ramsey. The congregation then went to Linwood Cemetery to decorate the graves with spring flowers.
All over the South, days were set aside to honor the Confederate dead. In some places it was the direct result of Lizzie Rutherford’s appeal as stated in Mrs. Williams many letters; in others it was a spontaneous act. It was not recorded which was the case in Columbus, Mississippi. A group of ladies there cleaned and decorated the soldiers' graves in Friendship Cemetery.
The event was described in the Mississippi Index on April 26, 1866:
We were glad to see that no distinction was made between our own dead and about forty Federal soldiers who slept their last sleep by them. It proved the exalted, unselfish tone of the female character.The article, read by Francis Miles Finch, inspired him to write the famous poem The Blue and the Gray which was published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1867.
In Petersburg, Virginia, Miss Nora Davidson and her pupils had a ceremony on June 9, 1865 in which they placed flowers and flags on the graves in Blandford Cemetery. It was here some years later that Mrs. John A. Logan, wife of the commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, observed the Southern custom. She was responsible for its spreading to the North. The event was described in her book Reminiscences of a Soldier’s Wife:
After a trip with Col. Charles Wilson, editor of the Chicago Journal, in a churchyard near Petersburg we saw hundreds of graves of Confederate soldiers.General Logan dictated Order Number 11 for the first decoration day for graves of Union soldiers. He ordered May 30, 1868, for the observance. This was the date of discharge of the last Union volunteers. Two years after its spontaneous birth in the South, Decoration Day was a nation-wide holiday.
These graves had upon them small, bleached Confederate flags, faded flowers that had been laid upon them by loving hands on the occasion of their Decoration Day.
General Logan was much interested in our account of what we had seen. He said that he would issue an order for the decoration of the graves of Union soldiers. Col. Wilson said he would exploit it in his paper in Chicago.
On April 26, 1898, the Lizzie Rutherford Chapter of the UDC was dedicated at Columbus. An official paper from the Ladies' Memorial Association of Columbus – the mother society – set forth the history of the organizing of Memorial Day with affidavits read by Mrs. Frank U. Garrard. Three survivors of the period Mrs. Jane E. Ware Martin, Mrs. William G. Woolford, and Mrs. Clara Dexter testified to the facts of origin.
The event was recorded for posterity by the placing of a monument of white Georgia marble at the site of St. Luke’s Church in 1938. The inscription reads:
In commemoration of the establishment of Memorial Day. Here in old St. Luke’s Church, on April 26, 1866, the Ladies' Memorial Association of Columbus ... held its first annual service in honor of the heroic Confederate dead.Lizzie Rutherford lived to see her cherished vision become an established custom. She married Captain Roswell Ellis, an officer in the "Columbus Guards" on November 28, 1868. Her name is all but forgotten today, but self-recognition was not her aim.
Columbus Ladies' Memorial Association August 7, 1938
Lizzie Rutherford Ellis died on March 31, 1873 and was buried in Linwood Cemetery amid the soldiers she loved. A marker placed in 1892 captures her spirit and her deeds "The Soldiers' Friend. In her patriotic heart sprung the thought of our Memorial Day."
Georgia Journal, Volume 3, Number 3