Following the end of the Civil War, many communities set aside a day to mark the end of the war or as a memorial to those who had died. Some of the places creating an early memorial day include Charleston, South Carolina; Boalsburg, Pennsylvania; Richmond, Virginia; Carbondale, Illinois; Columbus, Mississippi; many communities in Vermont; and some two dozen other cities and towns. These observances eventually coalesced around Decoration Day, honoring the Union dead, and the several Confederate Memorial Days.
According to Professor David Blight of the Yale University History Department, the first memorial day was observed in 1865 by liberated slaves at the historic race track in Charleston. The site was a former Confederate prison camp as well as a mass grave for Union soldiers who had died while captive. The freed slaves reinterred the dead Union soldiers from the mass grave to individual graves, fenced in the graveyard & built an entry arch declaring it a Union graveyard; a very daring thing to do in the South shortly after North's victory. On May 30, 1868, the freed slaves returned to the graveyard with flowers they had picked from the countryside & decorated the individual gravesites, thereby creating the 1st Decoration Day. Patriotic singing and a picnic followed a parade with thousands of freed blacks and Union soldiers.
Many of the states of the U.S. South refused to celebrate Decoration Day, due to lingering hostility towards the Union Army and also because there were very few veterans of the Union Army who lived in the South. A notable exception was Columbus, Mississippi, which on April 25, 1866 at its Decoration Day commemorated both the Union and Confederate casualties buried in its cemetery.