Posts Tagged ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution’

                                                                                                           civilwarunknowns01

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, also known as the Tomb of the Unknowns, is not the only local memorial dedicated to soldiers who had died in battle but later could not be identified.  There is The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution, located in the churchyard Burial Ground of the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria.  And during this lunchtime bike ride, I rode to another of these memorials.  I visited The Civil War Unknowns Memorial.  It is also located in Arlington National Cemetery, on the grounds of Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial.  And the memorial I saw today actually predates the other two, making it the earliest such memorial in the local area.

In 1865, U.S. Army Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs decided to build a memorial to Civil War dead.  The following year, in September of 1866, The Civil War Unknowns Memorial, was dedicated.  It stands atop a masonry vault containing the remains of 2,111 soldiers gathered from the battlefields of first and second battles of Bull Run as well as the route of the Union army’s retreat along the Rappahannock River.  The remains were found scattered across the battlefields or in trenches and brought to the cemetery.  None were identifiable.  And because in some instances only a few bones or a skull was recovered, it is presumed the vault contains the remains of both Confederate and Union Soldiers.

In constructing the memorial a circular pit, measuring approximately 20 feet wide and 20 feet deep, was dug.  The walls and floor were lined with brick, and it was segmented it into compartments with mortared brick walls.  Into each compartment were placed a different body part: skulls, legs, arms, ribs, etc.  The vault was then  sealed with concrete and soil.  Atop the burial vault was placed a 6-foot tall, 12-foot long, and 4-foot wide grey granite and concrete cenotaph, which was personally designed by General Meigs.  On the west face is an inscription that reads:

BENEATH THIS STONE
REPOSE THE BONES OF TWO THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN UNKNOWN SOLDIERS
GATHERED AFTER THE WAR
FROM THE FIELDS OF BULL RUN, AND THE ROUTE TO THE RAPPAHANOCK,
THEIR REMAINS COULD NOT BE IDENTIFIED. BUT THEIR NAMES AND DEATHS ARE
RECORDED IN THE ARCHIVES OF THEIR COUNTRY, AND ITS GRATEFUL CITIZENS
HONOR THEM AS OF THEIR NOBLE ARMY OF MARTYRS. MAY THEY REST IN PEACE.
SEPTEMBER. A. D. 1866.

The original memorial has undergone a number of aesthetic changes over the years.  But it’s original purpose, to honor our country’s unidentified dead from the Civil War, remains unchanged.

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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