Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution

On this bike ride I went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. However, I did not ride to the widely-known memorial at Arlington National Cemetery which holds the unidentified remains of soldiers from World War I, World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. I rode to the one located in a cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia, which holds the remains of an unknown soldier of the American Revolution. Unknown to most tourists and even longtime area residents, the Revolutionary soldier’s gravesite is the original Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

It is not included in Alexandria’s official walking-tour guide handed out at the city’s visitor center. Washington tourism materials don’t give it much regard, and the tomb is mentioned only briefly, if at all, in any guidebooks written about the area. Tucked away in the corner of the burial ground and backed up against a wall of an adjacent building, it can be difficult to locate even if you know where to look. I was fortunate to just accidently happen upon it when I was riding around and exploring.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution is located in a small burial ground behind the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, which is located at 323 South Fairfax Street (MAP) in the Old Town district of the city of Alexandria.  In addition to the unidentified soldier who is honored by the tomb, the burial ground, which was founded in 1775, is the final resting place of approximately 300 persons, including many other patriots of the Revolutionary War.

The remains entombed in the Alexandria memorial were unearthed during an 1821 construction project when workers dug a foundation for a Catholic chapel behind the Old Presbyterian Meeting House and found an unmarked grave with an ammunition box serving as a coffin. The uniform identified the soldier as from Revolutionary War and uniform adornments indicated he was from Kentucky. The remains were reinterred at their present location behind the meeting house on January 21, 1821, more than 100 years prior to the dedication of Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns, which took place on November 11, 1921.

The tabletop epitaph on top of the marble marker for the Tomb has faded with time, but is still legible. The inscription is remarkably similar to the inscription on the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National, and reads, “Here lies a soldier of the Revolution whose identity is known but to God.” The inscription at the memorial in Arlington reads, “Here reset in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” An additional inscription on a plaque in front of the memorial, similar to that found on the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington, reads, “In Memory of an Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution. Erected by the National Society Children of the American Revolution. April 10, 1929. Temporary Marker Place by American Legion Post No. 21, Alexandria Virginia February 22, 1928.”

The Old Presbyterian Meeting House, which is the caretaker for burial ground where the tomb is located reports that, on average, only handful of people per day pick up the pamphlet explaining the memorial. This does not compare with the approximately 11,000 people who enter Arlington National Cemetery each day to view the Tomb of the Unknowns. Also, there are no guards before the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier. Rather, only a small wrought-iron fence surrounds the gravesite. This stands in stark contrast to the Sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknowns, who stand guard while “walking the mat” in perfectly measured steps.   However, despite the fact that the small marble Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution cannot compete in regard to size, the number of visitors, or the grandeur of the Tomb of the Unknowns or the other giant memorials, statues and monuments throughout the national capitol area, it ranks right up there with all of them in terms of history and meaning.

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Comments
  1. Amazing. How do you find these places? Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s fairly easy to find interesting things all around you here in the D.C. area, especially when you’re on a bike. Riding a bike makes it possible to cover a lot of distance, but still go at a pace that allows you to appreciate what there is to see along the way. People rushing around in cars are often in such a hurry to get where they’re going that they miss out on the journey of getting there. Additionally, you also have to pay attention. Many times I have stopped to experience something, and watched as other people hurry past without even noticing what is right in front of them. By slowing down and paying attention, I’ve been able to find a lot of things that are hiding right out there in the open.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, although I was hoping you had some secret guidebook with maps and everything. I’m not sure biking around DC is something that would work for me, given where I live. But that doesn’t rule out walking, and Metro provides enough jumping off places for explorations on foot well outside the central mall area and I’m used to going a fair distance on foot. So I guess the lesson for me is to be a little more systematic in my explorations.

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      • Sorry, no map or guidebook in advance of my rides. But I have been putting together a map of all the places to which I’ve ridden so far. And I continue to add to new locations to the map as I visit new places. You can access the map through the tab at the top of the page, or here: http://tinyurl.com/kbm2alk. You can double-click anywhere on the map to zoom in. And … who knows? Maybe someday I’ll publish my own guidebook from the posts in this blog.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Cool. Thanks for the link. And if you do publish a guidebook (which would be a great idea), put me down for a copy.

        Liked by 1 person

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