Memorial Day started as Decoration Day. Decoration Day, also called Decorating Day, was originally a time set aside to honor the nation's Civil War dead by decorating their graves. It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers, by proclamation of General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of former sailors and soldiers. On May 5, 1868, Logan declared in General Order No. 11 that:
    "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. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit."
During the first celebration of Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery. This 1868 celebration was inspired by local observances of the day in several towns throughout America that had taken place in the three years since the Civil War.

By the late 1800s, many communities across the country had begun to celebrate Decoration Day as Memorial Day. After World War I, observances also began to honor those who had died in all of America's wars. In 1971, Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday to be celebrated the last Monday in May. Veterans Day, a day set aside to honor all veterans, living and dead, is celebrated each year on November 11.

Although these newer holidays exist, Decoration Day continues to be observed across the country at cemeteries such as the Dillard Cemetery as a tradition of family rememberance and respect.