There’s a lot you don’t know about Arlington National Cemetery

Carrie McLeroy, Soldiers

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June 15, 1864, 200 acres of a 1,100-acre estate in Northern Virginia were officially designated for use as a national cemetery. Today, approximately 400,000 individuals are interred or inurned at the 624-acres of hallowed ground we know as Arlington National Cemetery.

While the cemetery was born out of the Civil War, there are veterans of every one of America’s conflicts, from the American Revolution through today, interred there. The stories of the men and women laid to rest at Arlington, known and unknown, are the stories of America.

To mark its 150th anniversary, ANC’s command historian, Dr. Stephen Carney provided us with a number of interesting tidbits about Arlington National Cemetery that you’ve likely never heard or read about.

You may not know that these people are buried at Arlington

  • Robert Todd Lincoln is buried in Section 31. He was the son of Abraham Lincoln and was the Secretary of War in 1883 when the Custis-Lee family was compensated for the Arlington Estate that had been seized at the beginning of the Civil War.
  • Samuel Dashiell Hammett, author of “The Maltese Falcon,” is buried in Section 12. Hammett is also a U.S. Army veteran of World Wars I and II.
  • There are several military veteran actors buried at Arlington National Cemetery, including Audie Murphy, Lee Marvin, Jackie Cooper and Charles Durning.
  • Anita Newcomb McGee is buried in Section 1. In 1898, she was the first woman to be appointed as the Acting Assistant Surgeon in the U.S. Army, and was in charge of the Army’s nurses under the Army Surgeon General’s Department. She pursued the establishment of a permanent nursing corps, which became the Army Nurse Corps.
  • James Parks is the only person buried in the cemetery who was also born on the property. Parks was a former slave who had worked at the Arlington House and later became a cemetery caretaker, likely burying thousands of service members. He died in 1929 and is buried in Section 15.
  • Three of the five flag raisers at Iwo Jima are buried at Arlington: Marine Corps Sgt. Michael Strank, Marine Corps Cpl. Ira Hayes, and Marine Corps Cpl. Rene Gagnon.
  • Most Americans know that President John F. Kennedy is buried at Arlington, but not as many may know that President William H. Taft is also buried there with his wife, Nellie. Taft was the 27th president of the United States and later served as the nation’s 10th chief justice — the only person to have served in both offices. Mrs. Taft was instrumental in bringing the Japanese Cherry Blossoms to the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.

Headstones-tree growthInteresting facts about headstones

  • The materials used to make headstones at Arlington National Cemetery have varied through the years, with the earliest headstones made of wood and painted white. There is one marker in Section 13 for Capt. Daniel Keys that is made of melted down ordnance. This marker is known as a “Meigs Marker” because Gen. Montgomery Meigs, the Army Quartermaster during and after the Civil War, created its design.
  • Sometimes, older trees in the cemetery overtake headstones. The headstones are not removed, but once a tree obscures the name on a headstone, the grave is marked with a footstone.

Interesting history

  • By the end of the Civil War, there were approximately 15,000 service members buried at Arlington National Cemetery, more than any of the other 33 national cemeteries that were created during the war.
  • There were three military fortifications on the Arlington Estate during and after the Civil War: Fort Whipple, which is now a part of present-day Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall; Fort McPherson, which is now Section 11 of the cemetery; and Fort Cass, which is now located in Rosslyn, between Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall and the Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima).
  • History-BlattAlthough Pvt. William Henry Christman, of the 67th Pennsylvania Infantry was the first service member buried at Arlington, May 13, 1864, Pvt. William Blatt of the 49th Pennsylvania Infantry was the first service member interred there who died of wounds suffered in battle. Christman died from the measles shortly after enlisting. They are buried near one another in Section 27, the cemetery’s oldest section.
  • The original Tomb of the Unknown at Arlington National Cemetery was built in 1866 and contains the remains of 2,111 Civil War Soldiers from the Union and also likely from the Confederacy. The stone vault is located in the rose garden, not far from the Arlington House near the Old Amphitheater, which was recently renamed in honor of Civil War Soldier and veterans advocate Cpl. James R. Tanner.
  • The first Decoration Day took place in 1868 in front of the Arlington House, under an executive order from Maj. Gen. John Logan, the commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the first veterans service organization created after the Civil War. More than 25,000 people attended the ceremony — more than the population of Washington, D.C. at the time.
  • There are 407 Medal of Honor Recipients buried at Arlington National Cemetery, which includes the Medals of Honor awarded to the World War I unknown, World War II unknown, Korean War Unknown and Vietnam War unknown buried at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Vietnam War unknown was disinterred in 1998 and identified as Air Force Lt. Michael Blassie, but the medal remained at Arlington. The last Medal of Honor recipient to be buried at Arlington was Army Lt. Col. Don C. Faith, who died during the Korean War. His remains were not recovered until 2012 and he was interred at the cemetery April 17, 2013.
  • The Pentagon Group Burial Marker located in Section 64 represents the 184 people killed in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and those aboard American Airlines Flight 77. They are represented as a group of co-mingled, unidentifiable remains under a five-sided memorial. In addition to this group burial, many of the service members who died in the attack who could be individually identified are also buried in this section.

Familial connections

  • Hugh Auld (American Revolution veteran, Talbot County Militia) and Hugh Auld Jr. (War of 1812 veteran, 26th Maryland Militia) — Note: Frederick Douglass was owned by Hugh Auld’s brother and worked for Hugh Auld as a house servant. According to his bio, when his plan to escape was discovered in 1836, Auld kept him from being returned to the South. Douglass was eventually allowed to hire himself out in the shipyard in Baltimore, which allowed for his escape in 1838.
  • Familial-Capron Rough RiderEastus Allyn Capron (Mexican-American War, 1st U.S. Artillery), his son Allyn K. Capron Sr. (Spanish-American War, 1st U.S. Artillery), and his grandson Allyn K. Capron Jr. (Spanish-American War, 1st Volunteer Cavalry, the “Rough Riders”) – Note: Eastus Capron never met his son — he deployed to Mexico before he was born, and was killed in action at the battle of Churubusco. Allyn Sr. died of typhoid fever. Eastus’ grandson (Allyn Sr.’s son) was killed in action leading a charge of the Rough Riders at the Battle of Las Guasimas. It is believed he was the first U.S. officer killed during the Spanish-American War.
  • Adna Romanza Chaffee (Civil War, Indian War, Spanish-American War, Army Chief of Staff) and Adna Romanza Chaffee Jr. (World War I, considered the “father of U.S. Armored Forces”)
  • Charles E. and Henry Capehart were brothers who each earned the Medal of Honor in the Civil War — Charles at Gettysburg and Henry for action in the Shenandoah Valley 1864.

Other interesting facts

  • There are only two equestrian monuments at Arlington National Cemetery. The first is for Maj. Gen. Philip Kearney, located in Section 2. The second is Field Marshall Sir John Dill in Section 32.
  • There are only two mausoleums at Arlington National Cemetery. The first is for Thomas Crook Sullivan and members of his family in Section 1, and the other for the Nelson Appleton Miles family in Section 3.
  • The Confederate Section, Section 16, was authorized in 1900 by Congress. It was a symbol of the reconciliation of our nation after the Civil War. Joseph Wheeler, a Confederate general who later joined the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War could have been buried in the Confederate Section. Instead, he indicated he wanted to be buried in Section 2 with the fellow officers he served with during the Spanish-American War. This was another sign of the reconciliation of our country.

The grounds

  • Arlington National Cemetery encompasses 624 acres, 576 acres of which is managed turf grass. The 8,500 trees on the grounds include 300 different species.
  • The horticulture team at Arlington is also responsible for the grounds upkeep at the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Do you have an interesting factoid about Arlington National Cemetery? Share it in the comments section.

Note: Soldiers staff writer Jacqueline M. Hames, the Arlington National Cemetery Public Affairs Office and ANC’s chief horticulturist Stephen Van Hoven contributed to this blog.

  • Diane Lee

    I already commented…but here goes again! My family is buried in section 1 from the civil war until now. Maj Gen James Ricketts and wife Fanny, my great,great grandparents; Col. George Ricker and his wife Gladys, my grandparents, Col Edgar Jackson and his wife Virginia, my parents and hopefully my husband Maj. Roy lee and his wife Diane….us!!

    • Harry P. Copper

      Hmmm… I believe I’ve heard of Maj. Roy Lee. I’m not sure but my son was an MP who served in the US Army, any connection 2005-2012 (I’m thinking Fort Riley or perhaps Brooke Army Hospital?) Please do tell, as my wife thinks she’s heard the name too? Please don’t be bashful.

      • Diane Lee

        No, I’m sorry, but my husband is Air Force, grumpy an was a fighter pilot! Sorry

        • Harry P. Copper

          Nothing to be sorry about! Thank you both for your selfless service. I’ll figure it out- I’m kinda detail oriented! Perhaps, I read the name in a book I’ve read? Who knows? God Bless you both!

          • Diane Lee

            Thank you! We are still here but are getting close to our 70′s so hope to be buried next to the rest of my family in section 1. Cremation is what keeps the family together now in such small spaces !