Paying Respects at the U.S. Soldiers Home National Cemetery

The U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery, in Washington DC, is located next to the Armed Forces Retirement Home. It is one of only two national cemeteries administered by the Department of the Army, the other being Arlington National Cemetery. It is the oldest of our nation’s national cemeteries, having received its first interment in 1861.

The cemetery is the final resting place for more than 14,000 veterans, including those that fought in the Civil War. As you drive in, you pass a prominent mausoleum, flanked by two informational markers, introducing Major General John A. Logan, who led the Army of the Tennessee and established the first Decoration Day observances, and is buried in the cemetery. Today, the cemetery provides final resting places for residents of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, which is adjacent the cemetery.

General Logan served during the Mexican-American War, and was later a member of Congress from his home state of Illinois.  At the outset of the Civil War, Logan organized a volunteer regiment, rising to the rank of Major General. He returned to Congress after the war and in 1884 appeared on the Republican presidential ticket, losing a close election to Grover Cleveland.  Logan also served an important role in the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), issuing General Order No. 11 on May 5, 1868, which called for the GAR to spread flowers on the graves of Union soldiers.  On May 30 of the following year, the first Decoration Day took place, ultimately leading to the founding of Memorial Day.

During the Civil War, churches and other public buildings around Washington served as ad hoc military hospitals, caring for wounded troops or those taken ill while serving on the front lines. After the Battle of Bull Run, the Commissioners of the United States Military Asylum offered 6 acres of land at the north end of the Home’s grounds as a burial ground for soldiers and officers; the first burials were made shortly thereafter on August 3.

During the rest of the Civil War, the cemetery accepted thousands of soldiers’ remains, quickly filling to capacity, with more than 5,600 interments, including 278 unknown, 125 Confederate prisoners of war, and 117 civilian relatives of the deceased and employees of the Home. In 1883, additional acres were added to the grounds, bringing the cemetery’s total size to nearly 16 acres. (In 1900, all of the Confederate remains were reinterred in Section 16 of Arlington National Cemetery.)

Getting there: 21 Harewood Rd. NW, Washington, D.C.
Hours: daily, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Memorial Day until 7 p.m.)
Website:  U.S. Soldiers Home National Cemetery