May 10th in Civil War circles is usually remembered as Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s death day. In North Carolina it is also remembered as Confederate Memorial Day.
The Raleigh Ladies Memorial Association was instrumental in selecting that date. In early 1867 the cemetery on Rock Quarry Road near Raleigh was designated a National Cemetery and that meant the Confederate soldiers, some 400 souls, who were buried there had to be removed and reburied. The Raleigh Ladies Memorial Association took the lead on moving the soldiers to the nearby Confederate Cemetery which was at the time on the outskirts of Raleigh. That same year the LMA settled on May 10th as Decoration Day. For the next twelve years May 10th was observed as the Confederate Decoration Day.
The Wilmington Ladies Memorial Association challenged that date in 1880, moving their commemoration to April 26 to honor the day Joe Johnston surrendered at Bennett Place in Durham County. The move seemed innocent enough and the reason a strong one. When the Wilmington LMA formally petitioned other state organizations, particularly the LMA’s in Raleigh and Fayetteville, to officially change the observance to April 26th they were rebuffed. The rebuff was very close to a rebuke and so the Wilmington LMA added to the statement clarifying the rationale for moving the date.
During the 1878 May observance in Wilmington’s Oakdale cemetery (where not only were soldiers buried but also where a monument to all southern soldiers stood) former CSA Captain Thomas DeRossett collapsed from the heat of the day during the event. He died on the 17th. The Wilmington LMA argued that the April date was much cooler temperature-wise than the May date and should be adopted for that reason. They wished to honor the dead and save the living.
The request did not make much headway and, in fact, caused the other LMA’s to dig in to resist the change. To ensure that North Carolina would use only May 10th as the commemoration day the Raleigh LMA petitioned the General Assembly to make the day a state holiday. The status of observed legal state holiday followed in 1881. Confederate Memorial Day remained a state observed holiday for 90 years until in 1969 the General Assembly passed a law conforming North Carolina’s holidays to the uniform federal holiday law. May 30 was the federal holiday and the state moved to officially observe only May 30 as Memorial Day. But May 10th remains Confederate Memorial Day to many Tar Heels.