Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, May 1943 Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, May 1943
Memorial Day and the American Military

Memorial Day honors the sacrifice of those American servicemen and women who have died while serving their country. The day originated in the 1860s as a way of remembering those that perished during the Civil War. In May 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veterans’ organization, held its first “Decoration Day.” On this day, citizens honored and mourned the war dead by decorating their graves with flowers. May 30 was eventually chosen as an official date by Major General John A. Logan because, seasonally, it was a day on which flowers were plentiful across the country. Fittingly, the first large Decoration Day ceremony took place in 1868 at Arlington National Cemetery and was attended by a variety of Washington D.C. officials, including future president Ulysses S. Grant.

By the beginning of the 20th century, Decoration Day was an unofficial nationwide holiday that had replaced local spring ceremonies. After World War I, it was expanded to honor not just Civil War soldiers, but all fallen American servicemen. In 1971, Congress designated “Memorial Day” as a national holiday celebrated on the last Monday of May.

Today, Memorial Day is still honored in many of the same ways – presidents partake in a traditional wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery, towns and cities hold Memorial Day parades, and families visit the gravesides of their deceased military family members. Citizens wish to remember and honor those servicemen for making the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. On the occasion of Memorial Day, JMC has gathered together fellows’ publications and online resources on the holiday and the American military heritage.

Below is a collection of resources recognizing the American military and its history. Browse these resources or jump from section to section by clicking the links below:

From Rutherford B. Hayes’s Address at the Unveiling of the Soldiers’ Monument, September 12, 1877:

“…All who took part in those first battles of the great conflict, you remember and can never forget the feelings of sadness with which we saw the remains of our dead comrades gathered up and placed in their last resting place. They were gathered up, you know, by the parties detailed to bury the dead carefully, respectfully and tenderly, and when the shallow grave had been dug, and in their uniforms they had been laid away and covered over, their comrades looked about to see what memento they could leave, and they left frail fragments of cracker boxes, marking with a pencil the name of the regiment and company of the dead comrade, hoping that they would in some way be useful, little perhaps dreaming at the time that to the private soldier should be erected with granite and marble and brass such a structure as we now behold and behold the change. Instead of that little fragment, perishable and fragile, we have these enduring monuments forever to gaze upon. How glorious the change. Does it not remind us of the growth in the sentiment of all mankind of the appreciation of the worth that these men did?

…Forever hereafter we shall remember the American private soldier as having established a free nation where every man has an equal chance and fair start in the race of life. This is the work of the American private soldier, and as that monument teaches many lessons let us not forget this one. It is a monument to remind us that many are still living of that great army, who are the victims of that war. Some have lost limbs, some have lost habits and characteristics which enable men to succeed in life. Wherever they are, let us remember always the debt to the dead American soldier can be best paid by the kindness and regard to the living American soldier.”

Read the full address at What So Proudly We Hail >>

Selected online resources on the American military:

Civil War veteransThe History of Memorial Day

Both the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Constitution Center provide articles on Memorial Day and its origins. The holiday has roots both in the North and the South and stood as a common experience for citizens in a country broken by the Civil War.

Click here to read about Memorial Day’s history at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and click here to read about it at the National Constitution Center >>


What So Proudly We Hail

The What So Proudly We Hail online curriculum offers an ebook,“The Meaning of Memorial Day,” that considers the experience of war and asks how we should properly honor those servicemen who made the ultimate sacrifice. Each selection includes a brief introduction by the editors with guiding questions for discussion.

After World War I, Memorial Day was expanded to commemorate the lives of all those who have died in service to our country. In the past decade, hundreds have been added to the roster of those whose lives and service we are summoned today to remember. But how should we the living best honor these lives and those memories? In what manner and spirit should we remember? Why Memorial Day today? Our ebook, “The Meaning of Memorial Day,” explores these questions with selections from American authors and statesmen, including Herman Melville, Ernie Pyle, Louisa May Alcott, Frederick Douglass, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Each selection includes a brief introduction by the editors with guiding questions for discussion.

Read the ebook here >>



Arlington National Cemetery (graves)Arlington National Cemetery: Notable Graves

The Arlington National Cemetery website provides information on several notable Americans buried there, including Medal of Honor recipients, military leaders, presidents, and Revolutionary War heroes.

Browse the Notable Graves section >>



Memorial Day, North Africa American CemeteryMemorial Day Records at the National Archives

The National Archives provides a vast array of resources for Memorial Day, including military records, videos, and photographs of presidential wreath-laying ceremonies.

Visit the Memorial Day resources page at the National Archives >>



The WWI Origins of the Poppy as a Remembrance Symbol

Today, the red poppy is an international symbol of remembrance and is particularly associated with World War I causalities. While many citizens around the world wear poppies on November 11, Remembrance Day, Americans traditionally display this symbol for Memorial Day. Writing for the History Channel, Sarah Pruitt explores the origins of the poppy as a symbol of fallen servicemen.

Read about World War I and the history of remembrance poppies at >>


*If you are a JMC fellow who’s published on Memorial Day, the American military, or the philosophy of war, and would like your work included here, send it to us at

Commentary and articles from JMC fellows:

Military Ethics in the Western Heritage


Justice Among Nations, Thomas PangleSteele Brand, Killing for the Republic: Citizen-Soldiers and the Roman Way of War. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019)

Ioannis Evrigenis, Hobbes’s Thucydides.” (Journal of Military Ethics 5.4, 2006)

Steven Forde, Hugo Grotius on Ethics and War.” (American Political Science Review 92.3, September 1998)

Kathryn Milne, Family Paradigms in the Roman Republican Military.” (Intertexts 16.1, 2012)

Thomas Pangle (co-author), Justice Among Nations: On the Moral Basis of Power and Peace. (University Press of Kansas, 1999)

Benjamin Sullivan, Paying Archaic Greek Mercenaries: Views from Egypt and the Near East.” (The Classical Journal 107.1, 2011)



American Military Virtue, the Philosophy of Service, and the Just War Tradition


America and the Just War TraditionSotirios Barber (co-author), War and the Constitution.” (The Constitution in Wartime, Duke University Press, 2004)

Paul Carrese, For Constitution and Profession: Paradoxes of Military Service in a Liberal Democracy.” (NOMOS LI (54): Loyalty, 2013)

Mark David Hall (editor), America and the Just War Tradition: A History of U.S. Conflicts. (University of Notre Dame Press, 2019)

Mark David Hall (co-author), The Just War Tradition and America’s Wars.” (America and the Just War Tradition: A History of U.S. Conflicts, University of Notre Dame Press, 2019)

Joshua King (co-author), Pacem in Terris and the Just War Tradition: A Semi-centennial Reconsideration.” (Journal of Military Ethics 12.2, Fall 2013)

The Guerilla HuntersAndrew Lang, “Challenging the Union Citizen-Soldier Ideal.” (The Guerrilla Hunters: Irregular Conflicts during the Civil War, Louisiana State University Press, 2017)

James Russell Muirhead (co-author), Assessment, Proportionality, and Justice in War.” (Assessing War: The Challenge of Measuring Success and Failure, Georgetown University Press, 2015)

James Russell Muirhead, Counterinsurgency Ethics.” (The Three Circles of War: Understanding the Dynamics of Conflict in Iraq, Potomac Books, 2010)

James Russell Muirhead, The Ethics of Exit: Moral Obligation in the Afghan Endgame.” (Afghan Endgames: Strategy and Policy Choices for America’s Longest War, Georgetown University Press, 2012)

Thomas Pangle, A Note on the Theoretical Foundation of the Just War Doctrine.” (The Thomist 43.3, 1979)

Thomas Jefferson's Military Academy (Jean Yarbrough, cont.)Andrew Trees, Understanding the Story of Benedict Arnold, John Andre, and the Three Yeoman Captors: American Virtue Defined.” (Early American Literature 35.3, Fall 2000)

Thomas Varacalli, National Interest and Moral Responsibility in the Political Thought of Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan.” (Naval War College Review 69.2, Spring 2016)

Jean Yarbrough, The Role of Military Virtues in Preserving our Republican Institutions.” (Thomas Jefferson’s Military Academy: Founding West Point, University of Virginia Press, 2004)



Letters Home and First Hand Accounts of War


Civil War envelope with drummer boy and American flagJonathan Bean, Military Blogs: The First Pages of History.” (The Beacon, September 16, 2009)

James Hill (editor), The Indian Frontier in British East Florida: Letters to Governor James Grant from Soldiers and Indian Traders at Fort St. Mark’s of Apalache, 1763-1784.” (Florida History Online, 2010)

Jonathan White, A Black Soldier from Charlottesville Writes to Lincoln.” (University of Virginia’s John L. Nau III Civil War Center Blog, September 30, 2016)

Jonathan White (editor), “The Civil War Letters of Tillman Valentine, Third U.S. Colored Troops.” (Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 139.2, 2015)

Soldier writing homeJonathan White, “Dream Reports: Excerpts from the Dream Journal of Alexander S. Paxton, 4th Virginia Infantry.” (Military Images 35.3, Summer 2017)

Jonathan White (editor), Letters from the Monitor: The Civil War Correspondence of Jacob Nicklis, U.S. Navy.” (Civil War History 60, 2014)

Jonathan White, Life During Wartime.” (Dickinson Magazine 89, April 3, 2012)




A History of Military Service in America: War, Recruitment, and Voting Rights


In the Wake of War, Andrew LangMichael Douma (co-author), The Impressment of Foreign-born Soldiers in the Union Army.” (Journal of American Ethnic History, 2018)

Danielle Holtz (editor), Oxford Encyclopedia of American Military and Diplomatic History.(Volumes I & II, Oxford University Press, 2013)

Benjamin Irvin (co-author), Take Notice: The Not-So-1776 Recruiting Poster.” (Journal of the American Revolution, 2013)

Andrew Lang, Republicanism, Race, and Reconstruction: The Ethos of Military Occupation in Civil War America.” (Journal of the Civil War Era 4.4, December 2014)

Andrew Lang, Soldiering on the Texas Coast and the Problem of Nationalism in the Confederate Experience.” (This Corner of Canaan: Essays on Texas in Honor of Randolph B. Campbell, University of North Texas Press, 2013)

Shaped by War and TradeAndrew Lang, The Wake of War: Military Occupation, Emancipation, and Civil War America. (Louisiana State University Press, 2017)

John Gilbert McCurdy, Quarters: The Accommodation of the British Army and the Coming of the American Revolution. (Cornell University Press, 2019)

Bartholomew H. Sparrow, Limited Wars and the Attenuation of the State: Soldiers, Money, and Political Communication in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.” (Shaped by War and Trade: International Influences on American Politics, Princeton University Press, 2002)

Bartholomew H. Sparrow, Strategic Adjustment and the American Navy: The Spanish-American War, the Yellow Press, and the 1990s.” (The Politics of Strategic Adjustment, Columbia University Press, 1998)

J. Logan Tomlin, “Reluctant Among Revolutionaries: Sectarian Politics and Conscription in Revolutionary Pennsylvania, 1775-1778.” (Phi Alpha Theta Regional Journal, 2011)

This Distracted and Anarchical PeopleJonathan White, Canvassing the Troops: The Federal Government and the Soldiers’ Right to Vote.” (Civil War History 50.3, 2004)

Jonathan White, Citizens and Soldiers: Party Competition and the Debate in Pennsylvania over Permitting Soldiers to Vote, 1861-64.” (American Nineteenth Century History 5.2, Summer 2004)

Jonathan White, A Civil War Hermaphrodite.” (Civil War History 62.3, September 2016)

Jonathan White, ‘For My Part I Don’t Care Who is Elected President’: The Union Army and the Elections of 1864.” (This Distracted and Anarchical People: New Answers for Old Questions about the Civil War-Era North, Fordham University Press, 2013)

Jonathan White, The Soldier Vote of 1864 and the Expansion of Suffrage.” (The Lincoln Forum Bulletin 36, Fall 2014)



The Homefront, Civilian Life, and Public Perceptions of the Military


Michael Gillespie, American Public Philosophy After the Cold War.” (Public Philosophy and Political Science: Crisis and Reflection, Lexington Books, 2002)

Warfare & WelfareJames McMurrin Lundberg, “Ken Burns’ Civil War: How the documentary changed the way we think about the war.” (Slate, June 7, 2011)

Curt Nichols (co-author), “Latino Veterans and Income: Are there Gains from Military Service?” (Latino’s and the Economy: Integration and Impact in Schools, Labor Markets and Beyond, Springer, 2010)

Curt Nichols (co-author), Military Family Attitudes towards Civilian Leaders in the United States.” (Armed Forces and Society 39.1, 2013)

Curt Nichols, Public Opinion and the Military: A Multivariate Exploration of Attitudes in Texas.” (Politics and Military Sociology: An Annual Review 43.1, 2015)

Robert Saldin, Foreign Policy on the Homefront: War and the Development of the American Welfare State.” (Warfare and Welfare: Military Conflict and Welfare State Development in Western Countries, Oxford University Press, 2018)

Robert Saldin, What War’s Good For: Minority Rights Expansions in American Political Development.” (New Directions in American Politics, Routledge, 2013)



*If you are a JMC fellow who’s published on Memorial Day, the American military, or the philosophy of war, and would like your work included here, send it to us at



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