Memorial Day in the South 100 years ago had a strange dual personality to it. There were actually two celebrations, one for Confederate veterans at the beginning of the month and a much smaller one at the end of May for the “Federal Dead.” Both were all about the Civil War.
In 1912, the biggest news locally was the annual reunion of the South’s United Confederate Veterans (UCV), which was being held in Macon. Although traditional ceremonies were also held in Atlanta at Oakland Cemetery and around the courthouse square in Decatur, many Atlantans went to Macon for the great convocation that year. One of those was Regina Rambo of DeKalb County, who was one of the many female “sponsors” of the UCV Reunion. She was described as a great beauty and a “daring equestrienne” who also drove her own “motor car,” highly unusual in these early automobile days.
Sadly, Miss Rambo missed the great gathering in Decatur around the nearly new monument erected in 1906 by the Agnes Lee Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. There were speeches, a small parade, an award for local school essays on the Battle of Shiloh, and a chance to meet some of the dwindling number of veterans, like Capt. R. L. Barry. After the ceremonies, the graves of Confederate veterans in Decatur Cemetery were decorated with “floral tributes.”
Several weeks later, Federal veterans were honored by the U.S. military from Fort McPherson at the national cemetery in Marietta. Also contributing to the “national” Memorial Day were the local Atlanta post of the Grand Army of the Republic [GAR], the Women’s Relief Corps and several ministers from Atlanta and Marietta. Interurban trolleys left every 30 minutes from downtown Atlanta to carry participants to Marietta for the ceremonies. No local Atlanta or Decatur observances were described for this Memorial Day.
There was one bright spot, however, in this time of lingering regional divisiveness. The GAR had extended an invitation to the UCV for a joint meeting in Gettysburg on the July anniversary of that battle. It was accepted and a new, more inclusive tradition for Memorial Day was established.