"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
"It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." President Abraham Lincoln, 19 November 1863
Three years after the American Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of veterans established Decoration Day, now called Memorial Day, as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Civil War dead with flowers. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. The holiday is celebrated every year on the final Monday of May.
The Civil War remains the United States' deadliest conflict. More than 620,000 people died during the war. Many of the Civil War casualties occurred as a result of disease & infection, rather than as a direct result of injuries.
Local springtime tributes to the American Civil War dead were held before the national observance in 1868. One of the first occurred in Columbus, Mississippi, April 25, 1866, when a group of women visited a cemetery to decorate the graves of Confederate soldiers who had fallen in battle at Shiloh. Nearby were the graves of Union soldiers, neglected because they were the enemy. Disturbed at the sight of the bare graves, the women placed some of their flowers on those graves, as well.