Today marks the 150th anniversary of Arlington National Cemetery, one of the most revered places in the United States. When we think of Arlington, we often think of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and rows upon rows of the graves of our nation’s honored dead. Nestled in Section 27 is the grave of Pvt. William Henry Christman of the 67th Pennsylvania Infantry, the first soldier to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Christman enlisted on 25 March 1864. Within a few short weeks, he became ill and died of peritonitis in the Lincoln General Hospital in Washington, DC. Here is his record in the Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, 1861-1865.
Although Christman was the first to be buried in what was later renamed Arlington National Cemetery, the Burial Registers of Military Posts and National Cemeteries show his grave was assigned number “19” when they numbered the graves.
Civil War pension laws allowed some parents to claim pensions based on their son’s service. (It’s always a good idea to look in the Civil War Pension Index even if your ancestor died during the war.) Here we see Christman’s mother, Mary, applying for a pension on 8 November 1879. (The application was approved, as there is a certificate number on the index card.)
Arlington National Cemetery didn’t start out as a cemetery; it was the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. When the Civil War broke out, Lee urged his wife Mary Anna to leave the house. The federal government confiscated the grounds on the basis of unpaid taxes. Union General Montgomery Meigs, commander of the Union forces garrisoned at Arlington, ordered the grounds turned into a military cemetery, with the thought being that it would prevent the Lee family from trying to reclaim the house and grounds after the war.