Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade: A tradition since 1867

Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade Is One Of The Oldest In The Nation

It’s no secret that Gettysburg is a place where history was made, but most people probably don’t know that the Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade has the honor of being a historic event in its own right.

Running continuously since 1867, the Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade is one of the oldest continually-running programs that honors “those who gave their lives that the Nation might live.”

In addition to the annual Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade, there is also a service at the Gettysburg National Cemetery near the Soldiers National Monument.

In a place where so many lost their lives fighting for what they believed in, it is appropriate that Memorial Day in Gettysburg is a time-honored and cherished event.

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When Is The 2024 Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade?

The 157th Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade in 2024 starts at 2 p.m. on Monday, May 27, and the program at the cemetery begins at 3 p.m.

What Is the Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade?

The Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade takes place every year on Memorial Day and includes a variety of participants made up of veterans’ organizations, marching bands, reenactors, musical performers and local community groups.

The event is sponsored by the Gettysburg Joint Veterans Memorial Day Commission (GJVMDC), and concludes with a Gettysburg Memorial Day Ceremony around 3 p.m. at the Rostrum in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, part of the Gettysburg National Military Park.

“In eternal memory of those who stood for God and country.”

Dozens of small flags are seen on the green grass on the gravesites of the fallen at the National Cemetery as part of Gettysburg Memorial Day activities. The large soldiers national monument stands in the background.
American flags are placed on the gravesites of fallen Civil War soldiers at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. A program is held here every year after the Gettysburg Memorial Day parade.

2024 Gettysburg Memorial Day Ceremony

Following the Memorial Day Parade through Gettysburg, the official ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. at the Rostrum in Gettysburg National Cemetery.

The Keynote Speaker is Major General David C. Hill, Commandant of the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA. Notable dignitaries will be Captain Justin R. Hodges, Commanding Officer of the USS Gettysburg (CG-64) and Kathy and Larry Altoff who will serve as the Honorary Grand Marshalls of the parade.

The Color Guard from the USS Gettysburg (CG 64) will serve as the color guard.

Bio Of Major General David C. Hill

Major General Hill serves as the 53rd Commandant of the U.S. Army War College. In his immediate prior assignment, he served as the Deputy Commanding General,
United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

Before that, he served as the Deputy Commanding General of U.S. Army Central (USAECENT) and commanded the Transatlantic Division, USACE, in Winchester, Virginia, providing engineering and construction services across the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

Major General Hill’s background also includes command duties at the Southwestern Division, USACE, headquartered in Dallas, Texas. Other command assignments include the 36th Engineer Brigade, Fort Hood, Texas; Brigade Special Troops Batalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 4th Infantry Division (ID), Fort Hood, Texas; and Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 16th Engineer Battalion, 1st Armored Division Engineer Brigade, Bad Kreuznach and Giessen, Germany, among many others.

Maj. Gen. Hill’s awards and decorations include three Distinguished Service Medals, three Legion of Merit Medals, three Bronze Star Medals, six Meritorious Service Medals, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, four Army Commendation Medals, six Army Achievement Medals, the Master Parachutist Badge, the Air Assault Badge and Army Staff Identification Badge.

Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade A Tradition

Gettysburg is a patriotic town that offers plenty of opportunities to honor our fallen throughout the year. Besides the fact that it has the country’s oldest continually running parade, Gettysburg Memorial Day events are special in many ways.

Small town parades are always great traditions and Gettysburg is no different. Spectators wearing red, white and blue, stand along the route and wave American flags to show their patriotism and pride.

A graphic ad for the book Gettysburg Handbook, showing a blue cover with a Civil War soldier on a horse and 5 stars with a book review.

It’s special to be able to honor “those who gave their lives that the Nation might live,” when standing on the grounds of the American Civil War’s bloodiest battle.

The 157th Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade in 2024 starts at 2 p.m. on Monday, May 27, and the program at the cemetery begins at 3 p.m.

The grand tradition of the Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade is the perfect way to remember and honor the men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country.

Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade Route

The Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade starts on Lefever Street in Gettysburg, heads northeast to East Middle Street, turns west on East Middle Street and south on Baltimore Street to the Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

It kicks off promptly at 2 p.m. Bring your American flags and a lawn chair!

Note: Many people get Gettysburg Memorial Day and Gettysburg Remembrance Day confused. They are really quite different!

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Another Gettysburg Memorial Day Tradition

American flags fluttering in the breeze can be seen in just about every cemetery in Adams County, Pennsylvania, where Gettysburg is the county seat.

Author Jessica James places flags on the graves of veterans at Lower Marsh Creek Cemetery.
Placing flags on the graves of Revolutionary War veterans at Lower Marsh Creek Cemetery outside Gettysburg, for Memorial Day.

I have the tremendous privilege of placing flags on the gravesites at Lower Marsh Creek Cemetery outside of Gettysburg for Memorial Day. This cemetery is one of the oldest and largest frontier colonial cemeteries in Adams County.

One of the bronze markers that are placed on the graves of veterans at Lower Marsh Creek Cemetery for Memorial Day.
One of the bronze markers that are placed on the graves of Civil War veterans at Lower Marsh Creek Cemetery.

The Lower Marsh Creek Church Cemetery is a beautiful, secluded resting place for those who served from our country’s very beginning.

Placing the flags gives me time to reflect on their sacrifice and to honor their memory in a small way.

This cemetery  is the final resting place for 39 Revolutionary War soldiers, as well as 8 from the War of 1812; 15 from the Civil War; 5 from WWII; and 9 from Vietnam/Korea.

In 1790, the congregation chose a new site to worship several miles away near “The Great Road.” (Fairfield Road/Route 116)

The structure was built in a grove of giant oaks, near a spring in the vale, and was constructed from stones the congregation brought to the property from various nearby farms.

The church still stands and is still used for regular worship services today, more than 230 years later.

The Lower Marsh Creek Church, a stone church with white shutters, was built in 1790 and still holds services today.
The Lower Marsh Creek Church was built in 1790 and still holds services today.

As a way of honoring our heroes, the Daughters of the American Revolution installed a bronze marker in 1990, listing the names of the veterans who served in the Revolution.

Related Post: Two of the most beautiful cemeteries I’ve ever visited are Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Va. and the Old Burying Ground in Beaufort, N.C. I also discovered a long-forgotten cemetery in North Carolina that revealed a beautiful story about Southern heritage.

Memorial to Revolutionary War soldiers who are buried in Lower Marsh Creek Church.
Memorial to Revolutionary War soldiers who are buried in Lower Marsh Creek Church Cemetery. Flags are placed on the graves of veterans every year as part of Gettysburg Memorial Day activities.

Historians have noted that York County (including Adams County at the time), furnished more troops in the Continental Army under General George Washington than any other county of the 13 colonies.

A Gettysburg Memorial Day I’ll Never Forget

On an exceedingly warm Memorial Day many years, I was in Gettysburg honoring our heroes and ended up at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Walking along the pathway around the cemetery, I turned into the burial area to read some of the flat stone markers.

There, in the first row, was a stone with the last name of my husband. Even more interesting, the soldier had served in a New York regiment, which is where he hails from. Of all of the thousands of graves in that cemetery, it was quite a surprise to stumble across that one.

But the coincidences that day didn’t stop there.

Memorial to Jennie Wade at Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg, the only civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg.
Memorial to Jennie Wade at Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg. She was the only civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg.

We then drove over to the adjoining Evergreen Cemetery, where Jennie Wade is buried.

Jennie was the only civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg and I wanted to take a picture of her monument to go with a magazine article I was writing.

After getting a picture of her gravesite and driving slowly around the cemetery, I spotted a tombstone with MY last name.

It also had a flag and a bronze marker that showed that this veteran had fought from 1861-1865.

What makes this even more strange is that I helped place flags on veterans’ graves in this cemetery for more than a dozen years. I had never done this particular section, which is why I’d never seen it before.

We left the cemetery in time to attend the beautiful Gettysburg Memorial Day Parade, and then rushed home to hop on ancestry.com.

There I found that the soldier at Evergreen Cemetery was a great-great uncle. I also discovered that my great-grandfather on one side and great-great grandfather on the other, both fought with the 21st Pa. Cavalry, a fact that had never been passed down.

It’s so interesting how close we are to our own history, and sometimes don’t know it.

A visit to Arlington Cemetery and Arlington House should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Gettysburg Memorial Day at Evergreen Cemetery

Evergreen Cemetery is located adjacent to the Soldiers’ National Cemetery so some people mistakenly believe that it is owned by the National Park Service.

While it is old and has a rich history, it is a privately owned and operated cemetery. 

Established in 1854 by David McConaughy, a noted attorney in Gettysburg, Evergreen was created at a time when the Victorian rural cemetery movement was in vogue.

The idea behind this movement was that town cemeteries were more than just burial grounds. They were a place to talk to the deceased, honor them with flowers, and even enjoy an afternoon in a park-like setting.

Cemeteries created during this time are beautifully landscaped properties that were developed to provide inspirational “green space” in cities.

The Evergreen Cemetery is also unique in that it witnessed live battle action. Because it is located on a rise (Cemetery Hill), it was instrumental during the Battle of Gettysburg.

A Gettysburg Memorial Day is not complete without a visit to this cemetery.

An American flag is placed on every veteran’s grave in this historic cemetery so it’s really worth seeing.

One Union soldier wrote of Evergreen:

“The once beautiful Evergreen Cemetery now presents a sad appearance…the ground about our guns was literally strewed with shot and shell; a few tombstones erected over the remains of beloved relations were thrown from their position or broken into fragments; graves were turned up by ploughing shot, and tasteful railings and other ornamental work around the lots were somewhat shattered.” 

If you like old cemeteries, visit the Pon Pon Chapel of Ease.

Evergreen Cemetery Part Of Gettysburg Memorial Day

Evergreen Cemetery is still a fully functioning cemetery with open lots available for burial. (It’s truly beautiful).

The Cemetery provides walking tours of the property to point out notable historical figures buried there.

These include several Civil War soldiers, the Thorns, David McConaughy, Rev. Samuel S. Schmucker (the founder of Gettysburg College and Gettysburg Lutheran Theological Seminary), and American poet Marianne Moore.

Another important figure buried at Evergreen Cemetery is Old John Burns of Gettysburg, who defended Gettysburg at the age of 69.

Jennie Wade, the only civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg, is also buried in Evergreen.

Honoring Our Heroes With Poppies

Do you know about National Poppy Day as a way of honoring our heroes?

Everyone has heard of Memorial Day, but Poppy Day is not as well known. It came about after World War I and continues to be commemorated on the Friday before Memorial Day.

The tradition began when weary soldiers brought home the memory of a stark landscape transformed by wild poppies, red as the blood that soaked the soil.

Through this miracle of nature, it seemed that the spirit of their comrades lived on. The poppy became a symbol of the sacrifice of lives in war—and the hope that they did not die in vain.

A field of red poppies. National Poppy Day is the Friday before Memorial Day.
A field of red poppies. National Poppy Day is the Friday before Memorial Day.

People worldwide now wear the poppy as a way to honor living veterans and those who lost their lives. The custom can be traced back to 1918 when Moina Michael popularized the idea of wearing a poppy flower in memory of the lives lost in WWI.

She drew inspiration from the poem “In Flanders Fields,” written by WWI Col. John McCrae.

Related Post: I stumbled across another old cemetery in the mountains of Tennessee!

Quick Facts About Memorial Day

✔️ Memorial Day vs Veterans Day. Many people get these two days confused. On Memorial Day, the country remembers the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in defense of the country. On Veterans Day in November, all soldiers who have served the USA are honored.

✔️ More than 50 million Americans have served in the military since 1776.

✔️ On Memorial Day, the American flag is flown at half-mast until noon and then flown until sunset.

✔️ Guess what? Memorial Day is the most popular day to eat beef every year, followed by Independence Day and Labor Day, tied for second place.

✔️ A Memorial Day tradition is the “Indianapolis 500” car race.

If you plan on visiting Gettysburg, you may want to start with a self-guided tour. You may also want to check out the Best Time To Visit Gettysburg.

Decoration Day Precedes Memorial Day

Many towns claim the honor of being the first to celebrate Memorial Day, but according to the Library of Congress, Decoration Day preceded our modern day Memorial Day by many years, with one of the first taking place in Columbus, Miss., on April 25, 1866.

The sacred tradition of honoring our war dead in Columbus, Tenn., began as a result of the Battle of Shiloh in April 1862.

Registered as one of the bloodiest battles in American history, the conflict left 23,000 soldiers dead and thousands more injured. The wounded were transported by train to Columbus for medical care, where residents opened their homes to care for them.

Vintage decoration day graphic showing a woman in black staring at graves, decorated with flowers and flags.

Civil War And Decoration Day

Historic records say that the carpets at First Baptist Church in Columbus were ripped up and used for blankets. Nearby, at the home called Twelve Gables, Martha “Matt” Morton put floor mats out for soldiers to lay on in her dining room.

More than 2,000 of the soldiers who came to Columbus ended up succumbing to their injuries and were buried at Friendship Cemetery, just a few blocks from Morton’s home.

Gentle Gesture Starts A Sacred Tradition

A few years later, on April 25, 1866, Morton and her friends were gathering for their weekly sewing club when they decided to decorate the graves.

The older women reportedly dressed in black as a sign of mourning and rode in carriages down to Friendship Cemetery. The younger women dressed in white and followed the carriages.

When Matt Morton, Jane Fontaine, Kate Hill and Augusta Sykes were done placing flowers from the Twelve Gables gardens on Confederate graves, they did something that shocked the nation.

They decorated the graves of 40 Union soldiers as well.

To pay respects to the enemy had been unheard of before that time. But Morton and her friends understood that the Union soldiers were not unlike the men they had loved and lost. They understood they were somebody’s sons, somebody’s husbands, somebody’s brothers, and they died serving their country.

No matter which side they fought for, they honored their memory.

First Decoration Day Helps Heal The Nation Decoration Days were not uncommon during and after the Civil War, but when the Twelve Gables flowers were set upon the graves of both kin and former adversaries, it seemed the entire nation began to heal. Newspapers spread word of the gentle gesture, and it became the spark that ignited the tradition of honoring those lost in war.

Others Claim the Title Of The First Decoration Day

Many other cities claim to be the birthplace of the first Decoration Day, which grew to become the formal celebration of Memorial Day.

For almost as long as there’s been a holiday, there’s been a rivalry about who celebrated it first. Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, bases its claim on an 1864 gathering of women to mourn those recently killed at Gettysburg.

In Carbondale, Illinois, they’re certain that they were first because of an 1866 parade led, in part, by John Logan, the commander-in-chief of the Union veterans’ group, the Grand Army of the Republic.

Two years later, he led the charge for an official holiday.

Also vying for the title is Columbus, Georgia, which claims a woman named Mary Ann Williams suggested “a day be set apart annually” to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers.

But only one town has received the official seal of approval from the U.S. government.

In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation declaring Waterloo, New York, as the “official” birthplace of Memorial Day. The tiny update village had been shuttering its businesses and taking to the streets for the first of many continuous, community-wide celebrations for about 100 years.

In May 1868, General John A. Logan,  issued a decree that May 30 should become a nationwide day of commemoration for the more than 620,000 soldiers killed in the Civil War.

On Decoration Day, as Logan dubbed it, Americans should lay flowers and decorate the graves of the war dead “whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”

Picking The Right Date for Memorial Day

According to legend, Logan chose May 30 because it was a rare day that didn’t fall on the anniversary of a Civil War battle.

Some historians believe the date was selected to ensure that flowers across the country would be in full bloom.

When Logan died, his body laid in state in the rotunda of the United States Capitol, making him one of just 33 people at that time to have received the honor.

Today, Washington, D.C.’s Logan Circle and several townships across the country are named in honor of this champion of veterans and those killed in battle.

No matter where or when it began, Memorial Day offers us a sacred day to remember the sacrifices of our fallen and to honor their memory.

How Did The First Decoration Day Become Memorial Day?

As time went on, Memorial Day began to overtake Decoration Day as the name of the holiday, and it’s focus changed to honor all fallen American troops, not just those from the Civil War.

After the two World Wars, Memorial Day became the term most commonly used. The act of remembering all of the fallen took on a renewed importance.

Still another theory states that the first national celebration of Memorial Day took place May 30, 1868, at Arlington National Cemetery, where both Confederate and Union soldiers are buried.

For decades, Memorial Day continued to be observed on May 30, the date General Logan had selected for the first Decoration Day. But in 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which established Memorial Day as the last Monday in May.

The legislation went into effect in 1971. The same law also declared Memorial Day a federal holiday.

Some in the South still call it Decoration Day.

Wrap-Up Of Gettysburg Memorial Day

Whether you live in a small town like Gettysburg or a big city, and whether you call it Memorial Day or Decoration Day, I hope you pause on Memorial Day to honor our fallen.

We benefit from their sacrifices every time we exercise our constitutional rights.

These rights did not just “happen,” but were paid for by the blood of those who willingly risked their lives to protect ours, from the founding of our nation to today.

If you get a chance, shake the hand of a veteran and thank them for their service. That is a custom common on Veterans’ Day in November, but these heroes are national treasures, and we shouldn’t wait until they are gone to honor them.

Memorial Day is a time to bear witness to the selflessness described in John 15:13 “greater love has no man than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Memorial Day quote graphic saying Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. John 15:13

Plan Your Trip to Gettysburg for Memorial Day

Make sure you book your room ahead of time! You can find plenty of hotels, as well as Bed and Breakfasts and even camping near the Gettysburg battlefield.

Downtown Gettysburg offers lots of shopping opportunities, as well as dining establishments and bars.

And of course you’ll want to plan some tours and visit some of Gettysburg’s museums.

Compare Gettysburg Memorial Day Hotel Prices

Here are some Gettysburg hotels I recommend:

The Inn at Cemetery Hill: Located on historic ground. An easy walk to the cemetery and local attractions.

1863 Inn of Gettysburg: Also close to the cemetery. Walk to everything.

Federal Pointe Inn: Beautiful historic hotel. Close to downtown. Great reviews.

🛌 Find the perfect accommodation with Booking.com. From luxury hotels to budget-friendly options, they have a room for every preference, including pets and pools.

🎡 Discover the best tours and activities with Viator or Get Your Guide. Explore iconic landmarks, take guided tours and immerse yourself in the history and vibrant culture of Gettysburg.

🚗 Rent a car with Discover Cars and enjoy the freedom to explore the town at your own pace. Discover hidden gems, explore the countryside and make the most of your trip.

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