Arlington National Cemetery: A Chronicle of the Nation

Thursday, October 3, 2002

The first burials took place in 1864, in Section 27 of the cemetery. Those buried in Section 27 include:

Private William Henry Christman, 67th Pennsylvania Infantry, first military serviceman interred in Arlington National Cemetery, May 13, 1864.

Private William H. McKinney, 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry, interred May 13, 1864, age 17, first to have family present at funeral.

Private William Reeves, 76th New York Infantry, first draftee interred, May 13, 1864.

Private William Blatt, 49th Pennsylvania Infantry, first battle casualty interred, May 14, 1864.

Two unknown Union soldiers were interred on May 15, 1864. They were the first of nearly 5,000 unknowns now resting in Arlington National Cemetery.

The first graves in Arlington National Cemetery were dug by James Parks, a former Arlington Estate slave. Buried in Section 15, Parks is the only person buried in Arlington National Cemetery who was born on the property.

About 1,500 United States Colored Troops are interred in Section 27. They were the first black combat soldiers of the Civil War.

Nearly 3,800 “citizens” or “contrabands” (former slaves who were living in Freedman's Village on the Arlington Estate) are interred in Section 27. “Citizen” or “Civilian” is inscribed on their headstones.

Four Medal of Honor recipients are interred in Section 27. They are:

Landsman William H. Brown, on the USS Brooklyn, U.S. Navy, Civil War.
Sergeant James H. Harris, 38th U.S. Colored Troops, U.S. Army, Civil War.
Private James Richmond, 8th Ohio Infantry, U.S. Army. Richmond captured the flag at Gettysburg.
Sergeant Thomas Shaw, 9th U.S. Cavalry, U.S. Army, Indian Campaigns (1881).

U.S. Presidents buried in Arlington National Cemetery:

William Howard Taft
John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Prominent explorers buried at Arlington National Cemetery:

Floyd Bennett, co-pilot with Richard Byrd in 1926 when they completed a 1,500-mile flight to the North Pole. Medal of Honor recipient.

Admiral Richard Byrd, Arctic explorer and first man to fly over both poles. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Adolphus W. Greely, Arctic explorer who survived two years of Arctic winters without being resupplied in 1881. Founder of the National Geographic Society, he was awarded the Medal of Honor when he was 91.

Matthew Hensen, lifelong companion of and co-discoverer with Robert E. Peary of the North Pole.

Robert E. Peary, Arctic explorer credited for many years as the discoverer of the North Pole. Peary was granted the rank of rear admiral by Congress.

Commander Elmer Stone, Coast Guard pilot who was co-pilot of the first transatlantic flight in May 1919.

Admiral Charles Wilkes, explorer who led the expedition resulting in the discovery that Antarctica is a separate continent. He was a Civil War naval commander.

There are 16 astronauts buried in Arlington National Cemetery, including:

Lieutenant Colonel Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, U.S. Air Force, interred May 19, 1986. Colonel Scobee was killed in the January 28, 1986, explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.

Commander Michael J. Smith, U.S. Navy, interred May 3, 1986. Smith was also killed in the Challenger explosion.

Also buried at Arlington National Cemetery are the unidentified partial remains of the seven astronauts who died aboard the Challenger: Smith; Scobee; Judith A. Resnik; Lieutenant Colonel Ellison S. Onizuka, U.S. Air Force; Gregory B. Jarvis; Ronald E. McNair; and Sharon Christa McAuliffe. The seven Challenger astronauts are memorialized at Section 46, Grid O-24, near the Memorial Amphitheater.

Lieutenant Commander Roger B. Chaffee, U.S. Navy, interred January 31, 1967.
Lieutenant Colonel Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, U.S. Air Force, interred January 31, 1967.

Grissom and Chaffee were killed Jan. 27, 1967, in a fire aboard their Apollo spacecraft at Cape Canaveral, Fla. The two men are buried next to one another and received full military honors. Lieutenant Colonel Edward H. White, the third crew member killed in the fire, is buried at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

Other historical, literary and famous figures buried at Arlington National Cemetery include:

War hero and actor Audie Murphy. By the end of World War II, Murphy had become the nation's  most-decorated soldier, earning an unparalleled 28 medals, including three from France and one from Belgium. Murphy had been wounded three times during the war, yet, in May 1945, when victory was declared in Europe, he had still not reached his 21st birthday.

Composer, musician and band leader Glenn Miller. Major Alton Glenn Miller, U.S. Army Air Corps, has been missing in action since December 15, 1944. Miller was eligible for a memorial headstone in Arlington National Cemetery as a service member who died on active duty whose remains were not recoverable.

Margariette Higgins, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the only female correspondent to cover the Korean War.

Samuel Dashiell Hammett, author of numerous detective novels, including “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Thin Man” in 1930s, served in World Wars I and II and was jailed during McCarthy era as communist threat.

Mary Randolph, first person buried on the grounds that became Arlington Cemetery, cousin of Mary Custis, wife of General Robert E. Lee. Randolph wrote “The Virginia Housewife,” a bestseller in the late 1700s.

Vinnie Ream, sculptor of the Lincoln statue in the Capitol, which she did at age 18. First female artist to be commissioned by the government and last artist whom Lincoln sat for before his death; sculpted many other statues including Sappho, the poetess, which is above her grave.

Pierre Charles L'Enfant, captain, U.S. Engineers, and a brevet Major, U.S. Army, Revolutionary War. Under the direction of President George Washington, he planned the Federal City of Washington, D.C.

Walter Reed, pioneer bacteriologist, led experiments establishing mosquito transmission of yellow fever.

Ollie Josephine B. Bennett, pioneer female doctor in World War I.

Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis Sr., selected by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Army General George C. Marshall as the first black general in the U.S. military in 1940.

Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment