The history of Arlington National Cemetery is steeped in the Civil War, for it was this great national struggle that necessitated the establishment of this cemetery to bury its many dead. For many years following the war, the bitter feelings between North and South remained, and although hundreds of Confederate soldiers were buried at Arlington, it was considered a Union cemetery. Family members of Confederate soldiers were denied permission to decorate their loved ones' graves and in extreme cases were even denied entrance to the cemetery.
These ill feelings were slow to die but over time they did begin to fade. Many historians believe it was the national call to arms during the Spanish-American War that brought northerners and southerners together at last. In that war numerous Confederate veterans volunteered their services and joined their Northern brothers on the battlefield in the common defense of our nation. In June 1900, in this spirit of national reconciliation, the U.S. Congress authorized that a section of Arlington National Cemetery be set aside for the burial of Confederate dead.
By the end of 1901 all the Confederate soldiers buried in the national cemeteries at Alexandria, Virginia, and at the Soldiers' Home in Washington were brought together with the soldiers buried at Arlington and reinterred in the Confederate section. Among the 482 persons buried there are 46 officers, 351 enlisted men, 58 wives, 15 southern civilians, and 12 unknowns. They are buried in concentric circles around the Confederate Monument, and their graves are marked with headstones that are distinct for their pointed tops. Legend attributes these pointed-top tombstones to a Confederate belief that the points would 'keep Yankees from sitting on them.'
To further honor these citizens of the South, the United Daughters of the Confederacy petitioned to erect a major monument to the Confederate dead. On March 4, 1906 Secretary of War William Howard Taft granted their request. The cornerstone was laid on Nov. 12, 1912 at a ceremony featuring speakers William Jennings Bryan and James A. Tanner, a former Union corporal who lost both legs at the second Battle of Bull Run. He was commander in chief of the Union veterans group, The Grand Army of the Republic. That same evening, President William Howard Taft addressed the United Daughters of the Confederacy at a reception in the Daughters of the American Revolution's Centennial Hall.
Chosen to design the memorial was the world-renowned sculptor, Moses Ezekiel. Ezekiel brought more than just his artistic talents to this project for he was also a Confederate veteran who knew firsthand the horrors of the Civil War. He is now buried at the base of the famous monument which he created.
The Confederate Monument was unveiled before a large crowd of northerners and southerners on June 4, 1914, the 106th anniversary of the birthday of the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. President Woodrow Wilson delivered an address and veterans of both the Union and Confederacy placed wreaths on the graves of their former foes, symbolizing the reconciliation between the North and South, the memorial's central theme.
Ezekiel created a monument rich in symbols. Standing atop the 32-foot monument is a larger-than-life figure of a woman representing the South. Her head is crowned with olive leaves, her left hand extends a laurel wreath toward the South, acknowledging the sacrifice of her fallen sons. Her right hand holds a pruning hook resting on a plow stock. These symbols bring to life the biblical passage inscribed at her feet: 'And they shall beat their swords into plow shares and their spears into pruning hooks.'
The plinth on which she stands is embossed with four cinerary urns symbolizing the four years of the Civil War. Supporting the plinth is a frieze of 14 inclined shields, each depicts the coat of arms of one of the 13 Confederate states and Maryland, which did not join the Confederacy but supported the South in the war.
Below the plinth is another frieze of life-sized figures depicting mythical gods and Southern soldiers. At the front of the monument, the panoplied figure of Minerva, Goddess of War and Wisdom, attempts to hold up the figure of a fallen woman ('The South') who is resting upon her shield, 'The Constitution.' Behind 'The South,' the Spirits of War are trumpeting in every direction calling the sons and daughters of the South to aid their falling mother. On either side of the fallen woman are figures depicting those sons and daughters who came to her aid and who represent each branch of the Confederate service: Soldiers, Sailor, Sapper and Miner.
Completing the frieze are six vignettes illustrating the effect of the war on Southerners of all races. The vignettes include a black slave following his young master; an officer kissing his infant child in the arms of her mammy; a blacksmith leaving his bellows and workshop as his sorrowful wife looks on; a young lady binding the sword and sash on her beau; and a young officer standing alone.
The base of the memorial features several inscriptions. On its front face are the seal of the Confederacy and a tribute by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, followed by the Latin phrase: 'Victrix Causa Diis Placuit Sed Victa Caton.' This phrase means: 'The Victorious Cause was Pleasing to the Gods, But the Lost Cause to Cato.' On the rear of the monument is an inscription attributed to the Reverend Randolph Harrison McKim, who was a Confederate chaplain and who served as pastor of the Epiphany Church in Washington for 32 years. It reads:
Not for fame or reward
Not for place or for rank
Not lured by ambition
Or goaded by necessity
But in simple
Obedience to duty
As they understood it
These men suffered all
Dared all-and died
In addition to Moses Ezekiel, three other Confederate soldiers are buried at the base of the monument. They are Lt. Harry C. Marmaduke who served in the Confederate Navy, Capt. John M. Hickey of the Second Missouri Infantry and Brig. Gen. Marcus J. Wright who commanded brigades at Shiloh and Chickamauga.
Peters, James Edward. Arlington National Cemetery: Shrine to America's Heroes. Woodbine House, 1986.
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