Confederate Dead Are Still Remembered at Arlington

On the outer edge of Arlington National Cemetery is a little-known monument and burial ground for Confederate soldiers, a restful place with graves arranged in concentric circles around a magnificent piece of Victorian sculpture. On a recent Sunday there, the 482 graves under towering magnolias were each marked with a Confederate battle flag, and Jefferson Davis's 199th birthday was celebrated by Confederate heritage groups.

The burial ground, approved by Congress in 1900, was meant to smooth over lingering bitterness between the North and the South. Although Confederate soldiers were buried at Arlington, their families were sometimes prevented from decorating their graves or even visiting the cemetery because it was considered a Union burial ground. By 1901, Confederate soldiers buried at Arlington and the national cemeteries at Alexandria and Soldiers' Home in Washington were brought together in the new section at Jackson Circle at Arlington. In 1914, the 32-foot-tall sculpture honoring the Confederate dead was unveiled by President Woodrow Wilson.

The ceremony June 3, 2007, was decidedly Confederate-inspired, with men dressed as soldiers of the period and women in hoop skirts, but, as is the custom at Confederate ceremonies, the American flag was one of three carried by the color guard, and the national anthem was sung at the beginning of the program. Because of heavy rain, the ceremony was shortened, and actor Dick Crozier, portraying General Robert E. Lee, put aside his prepared address in favor of a few remarks and then recited Lee's famous General Order No. 9, his final words to his men at Appomattox Court House.

“Up north, they learn the Gettysburg Address,” Crozier told an appreciative audience. “In the South, we learn General Lee's Order No. 9.”

This year there were about 150 in the audience, including officials from the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Sons of Confederate Veterans and Children of the Confederacy, who placed 35 wreaths at the foot of the memorial. From a distance, a dozen curious tourists watched the ceremony and listened to selections by the Tuscarora Brass Band and the John F. Nicoll Pipes and Drums.

A much larger crowd was present on June 4, 1914, when Wilson unveiled the statue by Moses Ezekiel, a native of Richmond and a confederate veteran. Ezekiel, who lived in Rome most of his adult life, was an obvious choice for the United Daughters of the Confederacy when the group decided to add a sculpture at the cemetery. He had done work for the group: the heroic statue of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson at Virginia Military Institute, where Jackson taught and from which the artist graduated in 1866.

Ezekiel's work, often ornate and romantic, reflects the Victorian era. His Arlington bronze statue, meant to symbolize the reconciliation of the North and the South, is made up of several sections. At the top is a woman representing the South. In her left hand she extends a laurel wreath southward in recognition of the region's sacrifice, and in her right hand, she holds a pruning hook resting on a plow blade, referencing a biblical passage about soldiers beating their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Below her are several friezes, including one showing life-sized figures of Southerners going off to war: a blacksmith abandoning his forge, a young woman adjusting her beau's sword and sash, a soldier kissing his baby held by a mammy; and a slave marching with his master, a scene also interpreted as including a black Confederate soldier.

On the statue's base are several inscriptions, including one attributed to the Rev. Randolph Harrison McKim, a Confederate chaplain who later served as pastor of Washington's Church of the Epiphany for more than 30 years. It says: “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, sacrificed all, dared all — and died.”

On Dedication Day, almost 50 years after the war ended, Union veterans placed flowers on Confederate graves and Confederates paid similar honors to the Union dead.

Wilson captured much of their spirit in his short address: “I assure you that I am profoundly aware of the solemn significance of this thing that has taken place. The Daughters of the Confederacy have presented a memorial of their dead to the government of the United States.”

Later, he added, “My task is this, ladies and gentlemen: This chapter in the history of the United States is now closed, and I can bid you to turn with me with your faces to the future, quickened by the memories of the past, but with nothing to do with the contests of the past, knowing, as we have shed our blood on opposite sides, we now face and admire one another.”

Ezekiel requested that he not be buried in Italy but at Arlington Cemetery with his comrades. He died in 1917 and was granted his wish in 1921.

The stone at the base of the monument, where he is buried, reads:

Moses Ezekiel
Sergeant of Company C
Battalion of the Cadets
Of the
Virginia Military Institute

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