The Story of Confederate Memorial Day
Saturday, April 25, 2009
By Charles Kelly Barrow
Cmdr, Army of Tennessee
During the month of April each year we celebrate Confederate Memorial on the 26th. It is a very special day to us as we reflect on the sacrifices and noble deeds of those men and women who served and supported Georgia’s role in the Confederate States.
Their devotion was so important that the General Assembly in 1874 designated April 26th as “Memorial Day” and made it a public holiday. Many people know the date why it happened but many don’t know who was responsible for the legislation and how it came about.
The year was 1874 and James Milton Smith was Governor of the State. It was Smith who was inaugurated Governor on January 12, 1872 after 8 years of Radical Republican rule. Governor Smith served as Colonel of Co. D 13th Regiment Georgia Volunteer Infantry and was later elected to the C.S. House of Representatives in 1863 during the War.
The General Assembly that year would be in session from Wednesday January 14 until Thursday February 26 and this session would prove to be a memorable one. A 24 year old young man from Dougherty County would introduce his Bill to create April 26 as a Public Holiday on Thursday January 15. On that day, his Bill received its First Reading in the House. Who was this young man from Dougherty County? This young man was Thomas Rufus Lyon. Lyon was born on May 27, 1849 in Newton, Baker County to the parents of John and Elizabeth Lyon. John was a lawyer and would die before the War.
In 1870, we find Thomas as a lawyer himself living in Dougherty County with his mother. Lyon would later serve as Attorney District Court in Albany from January 1, 1871 until December 7, 1871. In 1872, Lyon was elected to the State House taking the place of Dougherty County’s first black and controversial House member Philip Joiner. Lyon would serve from 1873-1874. During this time, Lyon would marry the former Miss Clara Welch Sutton in Dougherty County on Tuesday February 11, 1873. In 1880, we find Thomas and Clara living in Mitchell County with 3 children. Lyon was still practicing law but would die on March 12, 1882 in Camilla, Mitchell County. Lyon would be buried in Section 10 in Albany’s Oakview Cemetery.
On Friday January 16, Lyon’s Bill was sent to the Committee on the Judiciary. The Bill would receive its Second Reading on Saturday January 17. Lyon’s Bill was passed unanimously on Thursday January 22 and sent to the Senate.
Lyon’s Bill had its First Reading in the Senate on Wednesday January 28. On Thursday January 29, the Bill had its Second Reading and sent to the Committee on the Judiciary. It wasn’t until Monday February 23 that the Bill had its Third Reading and was voted on. The Memorial Day Bill passed unanimously and sent to Governor Smith. Governor Smith signed the Bill to become law on Tuesday February 24.
It is not known how many Confederate Veterans or Sons of Veterans were in the legislature at the time, but I am sure that they felt it was important to honor their friends and family members. April 26 would be know as Memorial Day until after the Second World War when the Georgia General Assembly made the last Monday in May as National Memorial Day also know as “Yankee Memorial Day” From that time on, April 26 would be known as Confederate Memorial Day.