Commemorate the Anniversary of Arlington National Cemetery through Government Documents

May 20, 2014

150th ANCThis year marks the 150th anniversary of the designation of Arlington National Cemetery. On May 13, 1864, the body of Private William Henry Christman of Pennsylvania was laid to rest on the grounds of Arlington House, the former home of Gen. Robert E. Lee until the Civil War. Private Christman was the first soldier laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, one month prior to its official establishment as a military cemetery. The first of many events to be held this summer commemorating this important anniversary, began on May 13, 2014 with the laying of a wreath at Private Christman’s grave. Special Guided Tours are also planned, through the months of May and June. The events conclude with a laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on June 16th.

A wreath is placed at the grave of Army Private William Christman, the first person laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Image source:

A wreath is placed at the grave of Army Private William Christman, the first person laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Image source:

There are many Government documents available to learn more about the Civil War, Arlington House, and the designation and history of Arlington National Cemetery. For a brief history, check out the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs publication, Arlington National Cemetery. You can also check out this fact sheet about the history and development of all VA National Cemeteries.

Arlington House and the development of Arlington National Cemetery

The National Park Service (NPS) has published several publications regarding the remarkable history of Arlington House, including the following publications, which are currently available from the U.S. Government Bookstore:

arlington houseArlington House: A Guide to Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, Virginia. Although small in size like most NPS handbooks, this publication provides a wealth of information on the history of Arlington House. The publication opens with an introduction of General Lee and Arlington House. It also presents a brief historical account of the house and its occupants, the Custises and the Lees, as well as providing concise information on the house and its grounds.

cultural landscape reportThe National Park Service also published a Cultural Landscape Report about Arlington House in 2001. As stated in the report, “It’s hard to imagine today what the grounds of Arlington House originally looked like because of the graves of Arlington National Cemetery that surround the house. Arlington National Cemetery almost overwhelms Arlington House.” This Cultural Landscape Report and Site History about Arlington House, tells the story of the creation and use of Arlington House and its link to the formation and design of our national cemetery. It compiles in one place the site’s heritage, documents the changes over time, and establishes what is important to preserve. To learn more about Cultural Landscape Reports read A Guide to Cultural Landscape Reports: Contents, Process, and Techniques available from the GPO Bookstore. You can also read Custis-Lee Mansion: The Robert E. Lee Memorial online from the National Park Service, or check out a print copy at a local Federal depository library.custis-lee mansion

National Cemetery Burial Eligibility

Arlington National Cemetery holds about 27 funerals each week. There are several House Committee Reports regarding veterans’ eligibility for burial in Arlington. H.R. 3211 of the 105th Congress, as well as H.R. 3423 from the 107th Congress amended Title 38 of the U.S. Code to modify eligibility of burial in Arlington National Cemetery. You can access hearings, as well as the legislative history for H.R. 3423 and other bills online. You can also visit a Federal depository library for older reports concerning burials, such as a 1921 report before a subcommittee on the Expenses of burial in Arlington Cemetery of an unknown member of the Expeditionary Forces. You can also browse the volumes of “The war of the rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies” for any records of the history of Arlington House and the appropriation of the land by the Federal government after the war. The volumes are available at many Federal depository libraries.

Arlington National Cemetery Memorials

There are many memorials at Arlington National Cemetery commemorating wars, notable military figures, presidents, and service men and women. If you visit a Federal depository library you could check out a copy of “In Remembrance of a Sailor: a shrine to America’s heroes”, a 1990 publication from the U.S. Navy Department. Information about other memorials in the cemetery can be found on the Arlington Cemetery website.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

President Dwight D. Eisenhower places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of World War I during interment ceremonies for the Unknown Servicemen of World War II and the Korean Conflict, at Arlington National Cemetery. Image source: Old Guard

President Dwight D. Eisenhower places a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of World War I during interment ceremonies for the Unknown Servicemen of World War II and the Korean Conflict, at Arlington National Cemetery. Image source: Old Guard

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was approved by Congress on March 4, 1921. Details of the act can be found in the Congressional Record from that period. You can visit a Federal depository library to access historic copies of the Congressional Record and view the enabling legislation for the Tomb of the Unknowns. The remains of soldiers from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War lay in state and are honored by The Old Guard. In 1984, the remains of an unknown Vietnam War soldier were interred in the Tomb of the Unknown. A document about this soldier, “The Unknown Serviceman of the Vietnam War Era” was created by the U.S. Army Center of Military History. You can read more about it at a Federal depository library, or online from the HathiTrust. Pictures of the Tomb of the Unknowns can be found on the Old Guard Pinterest Board.

If you’re not in the Washington, DC area to participate in any of the events mentioned in this blog, curl up with these documents and immerse yourself in the history and stories of the men and women who fought for our country and were laid to rest on the grounds of the National Cemetery.

How can I get these publications about the history of Arlington House and Arlington National Cemetery?

Shop Online Anytime: You can buy these and other publications (with FREE Standard Shipping worldwide) from the U.S. Government Online Bookstore website at

Order by Phone: You may also Order print editions by calling our Customer Contact Center Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5:30 pm Eastern (except US Federal holidays). From US and Canada, call toll-free 1.866.512.1800. DC or International customers call +1.202.512.1800.

Shop our Retail Store: Buy a copy of any print editions from this collection at GPO’s retail bookstore at 710 North Capitol Street NW, Washington, DC 20401, open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Federal holidays, Call (202) 512-0132 for information or to arrange in-store pick-up.

Visit a Federal Depository Library: Search for U.S. Government publications in a nearby Federal depository library. You can find the records for most titles in the Catalog of U.S. Government Publications or CGP.

About the author: Cathy Wagner is an outreach librarian with the Education & Outreach team in the Library Services & Content Management (LSCM) division at the Government Printing Office.

Additional content, images and editing provided by Trudy Hawkins, a writer and marketing specialist in GPO’s Publication & Information Sales Division supporting the U.S. Government Online Bookstore (


Ball’s Bluff: A Little Battle with Lasting Consequences

September 20, 2010

A few Veterans Days ago, my wife and I made a day trip to Ball’s Bluff Battlefield Regional Park  in Loudon County, Virginia. You’d never know it was there, tucked away as it is behind a suburban housing development. Once you step out of your car and into the park, you’re in another place altogether. For one thing, Ball’s Bluff is really two sites in one.  Just inside the park is a small National Cemetery, containing the remains of 54 soldiers in 25 graves, all killed during the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. We were there on a cold, cloudy day, the kind of day that really made us think somberly about that long-ago battle near the beginning of the Civil War. Given that it was a small engagement, we were able to walk most of the battlefield, up to the edge of the high bluff where the inexperienced Union soldiers made their last stand. 

This battle was relatively inconsequential militarily, but it had a larger impact politically. An overly ambitious reconnaissance in force that resulted in the death of Abraham Lincoln’s friend Colonel and Senator Edward D. Baker, it cost Union General Charles Stone his career and was the impetus for the establishment of the Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, which became long-term Radical Republican thorn in the side of Lincoln’s Administration.

The U.S. Army’s Center of Military History has a neat little booklet on the battle that I wish we’d had that day. Battle of Ball’s Bluff was developed as a staff ride guide for Army personnel so they can “learn from the past by analyzing the battle through the eyes of the men who were there.” The best part of the booklet is the blow-by-blow account of the battle, accompanied by a number of detailed maps. As I said, the battlefield is relatively small, so you can really get a sense of what happened in just an hour or two.

What sticks in my mind is the fearful predicament of the Union troops, unfamiliar with the area and forced back to that steep bluff above the Potomac.  Many of them jumped to their deaths or died on the narrow little strip of land beneath under a rain of Confederate musket fire (left). I’m not that crazy about heights, so looking down from the top of that cliff really brought at least a bit of the grim reality of that day home to me.

You can read about this little battle with lasting consequences here, get your own copy here, or find a library that has a copy here.

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