“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie
in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” (original text link here)
To read the full text of General Order No. 11 click the link.
On the first Decoration Day there were 5,000 participants who decorated the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers alike. The holiday was observed on several different days until after World War I when the holiday was changed to honoring all Americans who died fighting for their country. It is now a Federal holiday celebrated on the last Monday in May, as of 1971.
But, what are the poppies for?
Moina Michael wrote a poem inspired by the poem “In Flanders Fields” in 1915.
We cherish too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies.
She decided to wear the poppies in honor of the fallen and started selling poppies to her friends and co-workers. The money she made from these sales went to help servicemen in need. Mme Guerin, visiting from France, noticed the new custom started by Moina and brought it back to France with her. Her proceeds went to orphaned children and widowed women from the war. From here, of course, the poppies spread to other countries which started fundraisers from helping disabled veterans to current soldiers in need.
Want to learn more? Get more info at History.com