Memorial Day originally began with little fanfare after the Civil War when many areas began paying tribute to the more than 600,000 fallen soldiers. Initially, it was known as Decoration Day. Women of the South began a tradition of placing flowers on the graves of their fallen. In 1868, not long after these impromptu tributes, General John Logan proclaimed the 30th of May to be the day of commemoration.
General Logan served in the Mexican-American War and was a general in the Union Army. In addition to being a state senator, US Congressman and US Senator, he was the head of an organization for Union Civil War veterans. His efforts to commemorate fallen soldiers lead many to believe his movement makes him the most prominent figure in Memorial Day being recognized as an official holiday.
Northern states quickly picked up the tradition, and by 1890 all were paying tribute to their fallen on May 30th. However, the Southern states held their honors on different days.
Congress enacted the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968, making Memorial Day the last Monday in May in order to allow for a three-day weekend. The act went into effect in 1971, and Memorial Day was declared a federal holiday. It is now celebrated nationwide on the last Monday in May.