Arlington National Cemetery New wars, Visions and Progress

Arlington National Cemetery

Part 2

Chapter 1: New Wars, Visions and Progress

Photos and Material by Dan Brodt

(All photos are copyrighted unless otherwise noted. Permission must be had to use any photo that is not documented)

(Page design and editing by Bob Baldwin)

As stated in the previous chapter, historian Edmund Morris's observation of it taking a new war to heal the scars of the old one came to fruition. The sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana's harbor in February of 1898 was it.

USS Maine

The Spanish-American War brought a former Union army major, and now President, William  McKinley and former Confederate soldiers together.

President McKinley

The result of the Civil War , the shrunken military had to rebuilt. The clamor for war with Spain and Cuba over the loss of the USS Maine within Congress began. Most vocal was the then Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt.

Theodore Roosevelt

The truth as to what caused the sinking of the USS Maine was still unknown. The regular Army had shrunken to just under 30,000 and the Navy had few ships.

Now a member of Congress from Alabama, Representative Joe Wheeler,

General Joe Wheeler

known as "Fighting Joe Wheeler", a Confederate cavalry officer, was ready to shun the halls of Congress in favor of the uniform of the US Army. Once a thorn in the side of the Union Army, yet admired by both General William T. Sherman and General Robert E. Lee, Wheeler advocated for an immediate military response. McKinley, who formed a North-South reconciliation, labored to quell the call to war. An investigation launched by President McKinley proved inconclusively that Spain had anything to do with the sinking of the USS Maine disaster.

A Cuban blockade ensued in April 1898 and war declared by Spain on April 23, 1898. Congressman "Fighting Joe Wheeler" was summoned to the White House.

Joe Wheeler

The president offered the veteran cavalryman a commission as a Major General to lead the U.S. forces. Wheeler was willing and eager to wear the Union blue. At 61 years old, Fighting Joe Wheeler wanted to serve his country. President McKinley rendered military commissions to former Confederate officers and even to the nephew of Robert E. Lee, Fitzhugh Lee.

Fitzhugh Lee

Fitzhugh Lee served as a U.S Consul General prior to his commission and was the one who sent the USS Maine to Cuba to evacuate stranded Americans if needed.

The American press praised President McKinley and reported "there is no longer a North or South in the old sense. It is but a memory."[1]

One officer serving under Major General Wheeler was Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt of the Rough Riders.

Lt. Colonel Roosevelt

Lt. Col. Roosevelt instantly noticed the gel of how experienced officers and former soldiers erased regional and racial distinctions.

Rough Riders

Rough Riders Memorial

Whites, blacks, regulars and Rough Riders fought shoulder to shoulder mindful only of their common duty as Americans. Those words were echoed by Lt. "Black Jack" Pershing,

Lt. "Black Jack" Pershing

who earned that nickname by commanding Afro-Americans of the 10th Cavalry in the Indian Wars. He again led them at San Juan Hill. Called "Buffalo Soldiers", they held their own and five of them earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. This combined military effort ended the war quickly. Spanish forces withdrew on July 17, 1898 ending four centuries of colonial rule. Meanwhile Commodore George Dewey routed Spain from the Philippines and Guam. Both then became  U.S Territories.

Commodore Dewey

In just a few months the U.S had established itself as a world power. John Hay, then U.S. Ambassador to Britain, spoke of the ease these territories were taken. "It has been a splendid little war. Begun with the highest motives, carried on with magnificent intelligence and spirit, favored by that fortune which loves the brave."[2] But this war left 460 dead by fighting and 5200 died by malaria and other maladies  in the Philippines. An uprising in the Philippines then cost America another 4,300 deaths.

USS Maine Memorial

Spanish-American War Memorial

A new conflict arose out of the Spanish American War, the USS Maine and San Juan Hill. The importance of honoring the fallen warriors immediately and to avoid the conflicts of long marches, moving fronts and hurried battlefield burials before months, even years as with the Civil War, President McKinley ordered Congress to appropriate funds to repatriate the remains of all those fallen overseas and to bring them home to their loved ones. When the repatriation program ended the majority of those who died in the Spanish American War, Pacific, Cuba and Puerto Rico were reburied with their identities intact.

D.H. Rhodes,

D.H. Rhodes

a landscape gardener at Arlington and inspector of all the national cemeteries, developed a new way of identifying the remains of the fallen. Hence the "burial bottle" was developed by Rhodes to hold the name, rank and organization for each deceased serviceman on paper and corked into a bottle to be held with the remains of the dead servicemen.

Burial Bottle Certificate

In the next war, this "burial bottle" would be replaced by what now stands as the "dog tag".

Credit for this revolutionary piece of equipment goes to Charles C. Pierce,

Charles C. Pierce

an Army chaplain who helped recover the dead in the Philippines with Rhodes. The Treaty of Paris signed on December 10, 1898, with Spain, the acquisition of the Philippines from Spain and President McKinley's Southern Peace Jubilee in Atlanta worked to solidify the continuing cordial feelings existing between the North and South. President McKinley also promised to take responsibility for the federal government taking care of the thousands of neglected Confederate graves in the North and the South.

"The nation was reunited  again, at least on the surface, a status that would soon manifest itself on Arlington's green hills, where Confederates from Washington's scattered cemeteries would be gathered in, reburied and celebrated."[1] A solemn reminder soon came when the remains of 336 soldiers from the Spanish American War arrived at Arlington for burial. With this welcoming home of warriors from that war, those from Cuba and Puerto Rico opened a new section in the winter just southwest of the Lee Mansion. Graveside ceremonies lasted all day long. Cannons belched out salutes every 30 minutes from Fort Myer. Thus began the now present ritual of the three volley rifle salute and the sounding of taps quavering over the hills of Arlington.

[1] On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery, Robt. M. Poole, Bloomsbury USA, New York, 2009, 113.

In 1915 the newly recast war monument of  the USS Maine's mainmast becomes a shrine surrounded by the sleeping warriors laid to rest.

USS Maine Mast Memorial

A crusade to find the remaining Rebel graves in Washington scoured all of Washington and returned those found to Arlington. A new Confederate section was begun at Arlington. North and South, forever enemies in the Civil War, united to pass proper legislation to give every Confederate headstone its equivalent Union sized marker. A popular myth that was repeated down the years held that rebel markers were more pointed than their Union counterparts so as to keep discouraged Union sympathizers from sitting on the headstones and defacing them. In reality any distinction between rebel and Yankee headstones was just that, a distinction. Also in a certain section of the Confederate area a concentric circle of headstones, like ripples on a pond, appeared. In a show of North-South solidarity and unification, the death of General "Fighting Joe" Wheeler reserved for him a special space among the Union's great generals. The General's huge obelisk still casts its shadow over the neighboring Union tombstones.

General Joe Wheeler

As the twentieth century dawned, Arlington had matured into something more than a Civil War cemetery. It had become a national symbol for sacrifice and honor. The nation's capital was taking a new shape as well. Pierre L'Enfant, the architect of the new capital was the first foreigner to be buried at Arlington. L'Enfant was a French officer who had fought alongside of General George Washington for the Colonies independence. He now overlooked Washington with a grand view.

Pierre L'Enfant

L'Enfant held the heights for comrades from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American  War(1846-1848) and now was to hold their graves in Section 1. By 1902, new regulations standardized headstones, making them more durable, taller and wider than previously.

Even when the country was at peace, Arlington was never out of sight nor out of mind. One fine September day at Arlington, the sputtering sound of an airplane engine interrupted the silence of the hills. Participants at a funeral at Arlington heard the sounds and wandered toward the gates at Ft. Myer only to see Orville Wright and passenger Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge flying circles and waving below to the funeral procession.

LT. Thomas E. Selfridge

Fast forwarding, Wright eventually crashed his plane, returned to Ohio, modified the planes superstructure, returned to Arlington and Ft. Myer only to have his new aircraft designated "Signal Corps Airplane No.1. It was the first warplane ever produced."[4]




[1] The Indianapolis News, June 28, 1898

[2] John Hay to Theodore Roosevelt, July 27, 1898, Bartlets Familiar Quotations 16th Ed.(Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1922) 536

[3] On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery, Robt. M. Poole, Bloomsbury USA, New York, 2009, 113.

[4]  The Washington Post, September 18, 1908, "Aviation..........."


Next: Part Two, Chapter 2: Innovations, Change, and The Unknown Soldier

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