Honoring Treason: Commemoration, Reconciliation, and Confederate Burials at Arlington National Cemetery, 1864-1914



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This dissertation examines the change in time that occurred at Arlington National Cemetery over acceptable commemoration and treatment of Confederate burials from 1864 to 1914. Soon after the end of the Civil War, Confederate interments at Arlington were deemed “treasonous” and unworthy of remembrance with visitors prevented from decorating rebel graves during commemoration ceremonies. Over time this treatment of Arlington’s Confederate dead transformed from animosity to reverence, complete with the erection of a thirty-two-foot tall monument to the Confederacy and the Lost Cause in the middle of a congressionally authorized Confederate burial section. Arlington, over this fifty-year period, influenced and reflected the changing nature of sectional reconciliation and national unity witnessed throughout the country. This dissertation examines why this radical change in the treatment of Arlington’s Confederate dead occurred; how the federal government and Northerners evolved from disallowing any type of Confederate recognition to honoring rebel military service; what occurred during this period to alter the perception of Arlington’s Confederate graves from an insult to the memory of the Union dead to deserving honored rest adorned with memorial statuary; and how Arlington, as the nation’s premiere national cemetery, influenced commemorative practices throughout the nation. This dissertation argues that this change was a slow transformation over time, heavily influenced by the war’s effect on changing gender roles in the South as well as fluctuating race relations throughout the nation. As the northern public became weary of continued federal involvement in the South, Southerners began advocating for recognition of their dead, focused initially on the shared experience of combat endured by both sides during the war. This continued focus on the valor of all soldiers created a common bond between the loyal and the treasonous, strengthening national reconciliation, and Arlington provided an early and important venue for an eventual unified reverence of the war dead. As the North increasingly capitulated to a southern interpretation of war memory, Arlington’s Confederate graves, once scorned as the final resting place of traitors, became celebrated as martyrs to a righteous and lost cause.



Arlington, Commemoration, Confederate, Memorial, Monument, Reconciliation