CIVIL WAR OP-ED: Two Memorial Day Wreathes at Arlington

By Calvin E. Johnson Jr.
Arlington House, Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington House, Arlington National Cemetery

Monday,  May 26th is Memorial Day!

May 2014 also marks the Sesquicentennial “150th Anniversary” of the first military burials conducted at Arlington National Cemetery.

On March 4, 1921, Congress approved the burial of an unidentified American soldier from World War I in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington and a Memorial Day wreath-laying ceremony is held at what has become known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Inscribed on the back of the Tomb are the words: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” Read more about Arlington at:

And since President Woodrow Wilson a wreath has also been sent to the Confederate section of Arlington where a beautiful Southern monument towers 32.5 feet with an inscription with the words “An Obedience To Duty As They Understood It; These Men Suffered All; Sacrificed All and Died!

The first Memorial Day may have taken place in the South where ladies groups cared for both Confederate and Union graves.

A hymn published in 1867, "Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping" by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication "To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead." Read more at:

Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for those who fought for the Confederacy and Union during the War Between the States. It is also the burial place for men and women who fought our nation's wars since the War Between the States. 

There are over 245,000 Servicemen and Women, including their families, buried at Arlington. 

The Union burial site at Arlington National Cemetery is located at (section 13). Also those buried at Arlington include: President John F. Kennedy, General Jonathan M. Wainwright, Actor-War Hero Audie Murphy and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 

About the turn of the century 1900 the USA also honored the men who fought for the Confederacy. The burial site for Dixie's soldiers is located at Section 16. 

Some people claim the Confederate monument at Arlington may have been the first to honor Black Confederates. Carved on this monument is the depiction of a Black Confederate who is marching with the white soldiers. In 1898, President William McKinley, a former Union soldier, spoke in Atlanta, Georgia and said, "In the spirit of Fraternity it was time for the North to share in the care of the graves of former Confederate soldiers.” 

In consequence to his speech, by act of the United States Congress, a portion of Arlington National Cemetery was set aside for the burial of Confederate soldiers. At this time 267 Confederate remains from and near Washington, D.C. were removed and re-interred at this new site at Arlington. 

In 1906, The United Daughters of the Confederacy asked for permission from William Howard Taft to erect a Confederate monument. Taft was at the time serving as the United States Secretary of War and was in charge of National Cemeteries. 

With permission the Arlington Confederate Memorial Association was formed and the ladies of the UDC were given authority to oversee work on the monument. 

An agreement and contract was made with Sir Moses J. Ezekiel who was a Jewish Confederate Veteran by the record of his service at the Battle of New Market while he was a cadet at Virginia Military Institute. Work started at his workshop in Italy in 1910, and upon his death in 1917, the great sculptor was brought back home and buried near the base of the Arlington Confederate Monument.

In 1914 the Arlington monument was unveiled to a crowd of thousands that included former Union and Confederate soldiers. 

This memorial event was presided over by President Woodrow Wilson and the people applauded the stirring speeches given by: General Bennett H. Young, Commander In Chief of the United Confederate Veterans; General Washington Gardner, Commander In Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic; Colonel Robert E. Lee, grandson of General Robert E. Lee, and Mrs. Daisy McLaurin Stevens, President General of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. 

The Arlington Confederate Monument unveiling was concluded by a 21-gun salute and the monument was officially given to the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the UDC gave it back to the United States War Department for keeping and was accepted by President Woodrow Wilson who said: 

"I am not so happy as PROUD to participate in this capacity on such an occasion---proud that I represent such a people." 

Lest We Forget!

Johnson is a speaker, short story writer, author of book “When America stood for God, Family and Country” and Chairman of the National and Georgia Division Sons of Confederate Veterans Confederate History and Heritage Month committee. He lives in Kennesaw, GA, near Atlanta.