The real meaning of Memorial Day isn't just about the military — it's about forgiveness.

In the years following the bitter Civil War, a former Union general took a holiday originated by former Confederates and helped spread it across the entire country.

The holiday was Memorial Day, and the 2018 commemoration on May 28 marks the 150th anniversary of its official nationwide observance. The annual commemoration was born in the former Confederate States in 1866 and adopted by the United States in 1868. It is a holiday in which the nation honors its military dead.

Gen. John A. Logan, who headed the largest Union veterans fraternity at that time, the Grand Army of the Republic, is usually credited as being the originator of the holiday.


Civil War Union Gen. John A. Logan. Photo via the Library of Congress.

Yet when Logan established the holiday, he acknowledged its genesis among the Union's former enemies, saying, "It was not too late for the Union men of the nation to follow the example of the people of the South."

Cities and towns across America have for more than a century claimed to be the birthplace of Memorial Day.

But I and my co-author Daniel Bellware have sifted through the myths and half-truths and uncovered the authentic story of how this holiday came into being.

During 1866, the first year Memorial Day was observed in the South, a feature of the holiday emerged that made awareness, admiration and eventually imitation of it spread quickly to the North.

During the inaugural Memorial Day observances in Columbus, Georgia, many Southern participants — especially women — decorated graves of Confederate soldiers as well as those of their former enemies who fought for the Union.

Shortly after those first Memorial Day observances all across the South, newspaper coverage in the North was highly favorable to the ex-Confederates.

"The action of the ladies on this occasion, in burying whatever animosities or ill-feeling may have been engendered in the late war towards those who fought against them, is worthy of all praise and commendation," wrote one paper.

On May 9, 1866, the Cleveland Daily Leader lauded the Southern women during their first Memorial Day.

"The act was as beautiful as it was unselfish, and will be appreciated in the North."

The New York Commercial Advertiser, recognizing the magnanimous deeds of the women of Columbus, echoed the sentiment. "Let this incident, touching and beautiful as it is, impart to our Washington authorities a lesson in conciliation."

To be sure, this sentiment was not unanimous. There were many in both parts of the U.S. who had no interest in conciliation.

But as a result of one of these news reports, Francis Miles Finch, a Northern judge, academic and poet, wrote a poem titled "The Blue and the Gray." Finch's poem quickly became part of the American literary canon. He explained what inspired him to write it:

"It struck me that the South was holding out a friendly hand, and that it was our duty, not only as conquerors, but as men and their fellow citizens of the nation, to grasp it."

Finch's poem seemed to extend a full pardon to the South: "They banish our anger forever when they laurel the graves of our dead" was one of the lines.

Almost immediately, the poem circulated across America in books, magazines and newspapers. By the end of the 19th century, school children everywhere were required to memorize Finch's poem.

Not just poems: Sheet music written to commemorate Memorial Day in 1870. Image via the Library of Congress.

As Finch's poem circulated the country, the Southern Memorial Day holiday became a familiar phenomenon throughout America.

Logan was aware of the forgiving sentiments of people like Finch. When Logan's order establishing Memorial Day was published in various newspapers in May 1868, Finch's poem was sometimes appended to the order.

It was not long before Northerners decided that they would not only adopt the Southern custom of Memorial Day, but also the Southern custom of "burying the hatchet."

A group of Union veterans explained their intentions in a letter to the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph on May 28, 1869:

"Wishing to bury forever the harsh feelings engendered by the war, Post 19 has decided not to pass by the graves of the Confederates sleeping in our lines, but divide each year between the blue and the grey the first floral offerings of a common country. We have no powerless foes. Post 19 thinks of the Southern dead only as brave men."

Other reports of reciprocal magnanimity circulated in the North, including the gesture of a 10-year-old who made a wreath of flowers and sent it to the overseer of the holiday, a Col. Leaming in Lafayette, Indiana, with the following note attached, published in The New Hampshire Patriot on July 15, 1868:

"Will you please put this wreath upon some rebel soldier’s grave? My dear papa is buried at Andersonville, (Georgia) and perhaps some little girl will be kind enough to put a few flowers upon his grave."

Although not known by many today, the early evolution of the Memorial Day holiday was a manifestation of Abraham Lincoln's hope for reconciliation between North and South.

Lincoln's wish was that there be "malice toward none" and "charity for all." These wishes were clearly fulfilled in the magnanimous actions of citizens on both sides, who extended an olive branch during those very first Memorial Day observances.

This story originally appeared on The Conversation and is printed here with permission.

Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves
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It can be expensive to have a pet. It's possible to spend between $250 to $700 a year on food for a dog and around $120-$500 on food for a cat. But of course, most of us don't think twice about the expense: having a pet is worth it because of the company animals provide.

But for some, this expense is hard to keep up, no matter how much you adore your fur baby. And that's why Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves decided to help.

Kenneth had seen a man scraping together change in a store to buy pet food, so he offered to buy the man some extra pet food. Still, later that night he couldn't stop thinking about the experience — he worried the man wasn't just struggling to pay for pet food, but food for himself, too.

So he went home and told his wife — and immediately, they both knew they needed to do something. So, in December 2020, they converted a farm stand into a take-what-you-need, leave-what-you-can Pet Food pantry.

"A lot of people would have watched that man count out change to buy pet food. Some may have helped him out like my husband did," Jill says. "A few may have thought about it afterward. But, only someone like Kenny would turn that experience into what we have today."

"If it weren't for his generous spirit and his penchant for a plan, the pantry would never have been born," she adds.

A man with sunglasses hands a box of cat food to a woman smiling Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

At first, the couple started the pet food pantry with a couple hundred dollars of pet food they bought themselves. And to make sure people knew about the pantry, they set up a Facebook page for the pantry, then went to other Facebook groups, such as a "Buy Nothing group," and shared what they were doing.

"When we started, we weren't even sure people would use us," Jill says. "At best, we were hoping to be able to provide enough to help people get through the holidays."

But, thanks to their page and word of mouth, news spread about what they were doing, and the donations of more pet food started flooding in, too. Before long, they were coming home to stacks of food — and within a couple of months, the pantry was full.

Yellow post-it note with handwritten note that reads: "Hi, I read your story on Facebook. Here is a small donation to help. I have a 3-year-old yellow lab who I adore. I hope this helps someone in need. Merry Christmas. Meredith" Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"The pounds of food we have gone through is well, well, well into the thousands," Jill says. "The orders from our Amazon Wish List alone include several hundred pounds of dry food, a couple of hundred cases of canned food, and thousands of treats and toys. But, that does not even take into account the hundreds of drop-offs, online orders, and monetary donations we have received."

They also got many 'Thank you notes' from the people they helped.

"I would like to thank you for helping us feed our fur babies," one note read. "My husband and I recently lost our jobs, and my husband [will] hopefully [find] a new one. We are just waiting for a call."

Another read: "I just need to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. I haven't worked in over a month with a two-year-old at home. Dad brings in about $300/week. From the pandemic to Christmas, it has been tough. But with the help of beautiful people like you, my fur baby can now eat a little bit longer, and my heart is happy."

Jill says that she thinks the fact that the pet pantry is a farm stand helps people feel better.

A woman holding a small black dog and looking at the camera is greeted by Jill Gonsalves Photo courtesy of Kenneth and Jill Gonsalves

"When we first started this, someone who visited us mentioned how it made them feel good to be able to browse without feeling like they were being watched," she says. "So, it's been important to us to maintain that integrity."

Jill and Kenneth aren't sure how many people they've helped so far, but they know that their pet food pantry is doing what they hoped it would. "The pet owners who visit us, much like donations, come in ebbs and flows," Jill says. "We have some regulars who have been with us since the beginning. We also have some people that come a few times, and we never see again."

"Our hope is that they used us while they were in a tough spot, but they don't need us anymore. In a funny way, the greatest thing would be if no one needed us anymore."


Today, the Acushnet Pet Pantry is still going strong, but its stock is running low. If you want to help out, visit their Facebook page for updates and to find ways to donate.

Demonstrators hold up signs at the Rally for Abortion Justice in Columbus, Ohio

The U.S. Supreme Court's swing to the right under the Trump presidency puts abortion rights in peril throughout the United States. The Court's decision not to act on a Texas law that bans abortions after about six weeks has opened the floodgates for other states to restrict freedoms.

The Texas law deputizes its citizens to report those who've had an abortion after the fetus has a heartbeat or anyone who assisted in the process. Reporters whose information leads to a successful conviction can be awarded up to $10,000 by the state.

The law is astonishing in a state that claims to value freedom. What's more authoritarian than paying your citizens to snitch on each other for their personal health decisions?

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