Virginia Magazine of History and Biography
Volume 111 / Number 2
"In the Spirit of Fraternity": The United States Government and the Burial of Confederate Dead at Arlington
National Cemetery, 1864–1914.
- Michelle A. Krowl, pp. 151–86
In 1898, President McKinley delivered a speech before the Georgia legislature that urged the U.S. government to
assume responsibility for the care of graves of Confederate dead. The first attempt at putting McKinley's idea into
practice occurred at Virginia's Arlington National Cemetery. Encouraged by research and petitions presented by
Confederate veterans in Washington, D.C., the federal government in 1900 agreed to reinter the Confederate
dead buried in gravesites scattered in Washington-area cemeteries into a consolidated Confederate section at
Arlington. The success of the experiment at Arlington ultimately led to legislation authorizing the War
Department to assume the care of the graves of almost 30,000 Confederates buried in national cemeteries
in the North.
This effort on behalf of the Confederate dead provides yet another avenue for studying sectional
reconciliation in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By focusing on the valorous deeds
of the dead, living veterans from both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line united in celebration of the
common soldier. But though the good will created by reburial and re-marking projects was genuine,
the Arlington experience also revealed the limits and complexities of sectional reconciliation. The dead
were purposefully segregated within cemeteries, causation of the war was studiously ignored in memorial
speeches, and white southern women refused to allow the government to interfere with their sacred trust
in caring for Confederate graves in the South, all to maintain the careful equilibrium that allowed former
Confederates and Yankees to coexist. This essay examines the facets of sectional reconciliation and
historical memory, as exhibited in the creation of the Confederate section of Arlington National Cemetery.