This weekend marks the 150th anniversary of the first Memorial Day Parade before there was even a Memorial Day. On May 23 and 24, 1865 Washington D.C. hosted the two day Grand Review parade of the Union Troops. The Army of the West led by William T. Sherman had completed it's capture of Atlanta and Savannah the previous autumn and had marched through South Carolina and North Carolina in the spring of 1865. They were about to join Grant's Army of the Potomac in Virginia when the war ended, but there was one last military spectacle left.
Here's an account of this extraordinary event from B.H. Liddell Hart's 1958 biography, Sherman: Soldier, Realist, American:
"On the 23rd, the Eastern armies (the Army of the Potomac) marched in review through Washington, an endless column of troops well-clad and well-drilled, their ranks trim and spotless. Returning from the pageant Sherman, with his customary candour, declared: 'It was magnificent. In dress, in soldierly appearance, in precision of alignment and marching we cannot beat those fellows.' Then some one suggested that they should not attempt it but instead should be workmanlike and pass in review 'as we went marching through Georgia.'
Sherman caught up the suggestion and next morning as the people of Washington watched the Grand Army of the West defile before their eyes they saw no glittering pageant, but instead an exhibition of virility. With uniforms travel-stained and patched, colours tattered and bullet riven, brigade after brigade passed with the elastic spring and freely swinging stride of athletes, each followed by its famous 'bummers' on laden mules ridden with rope and bridles. The most practically trained, physically fittest and most actively intelligent army that the world had seen."