Memorial Day Monday

A Civil War veteran at Santa Fe’s National Cemetery.

Memorial Day is observed annually on the last Monday in May. The tradition began after the American Civil War. In New Mexico the Civil War was fought at the Battle of Glorieta Pass in northern New Mexico. The two-day battle began on March 26, 1862 and is known in history as the “Battle of Gettysburg of the West.” New Mexico played a small yet significant role in the Civil War. The Santa Fe National Cemetery was created at that time to bury the soldiers who died during the historical battle. In 1870 the Archdiocese of Santa Fe donated the land for the cemetery to the federal government. Approximately 65,000 soldiers are buried at the cemetery on Santa Fe’s northside.

A Funeral Trend Takes Hold During the Civil War

By the 19th century embalming was readily available in the big cities in the U.S. It was during the American Civil War (1861–65) that embalming became more widely used. More than a half a million soldiers died on the battlefields hundreds of miles away from their grieving families. The bereaved wanted to bring their loved ones back home for burial. That was a pivotal moment in our nation’s history. Caring for the dead became a regulated, mainstream industry. Through the mid-1940s the preparation and the burial of a loved one was the responsibility of the family in New Mexico.

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