Disrespect Of The Remains Of Confederate Dead At Arlington - The federal government did not permit the decoration of Confederate graves at the cemetery- Miegs refused to give families of Confederates buried there permission to lay flowers on their loved ones’ graves, families barred from the cemetery.
Confederate military personnel were among those initially buried at Arlington. Some were prisoners of war who died while in custody or who were executed as spies by the Union, but some were battlefield dead. For example, in 1865, General Meigs decided to build monument to the Civil War dead in a grove of trees near the flower garden south of the Robert E. Lee mansion at Arlington.
The bodies of 2,111 Union and Confederate dead within a 35-mile (56 km) radius of the city of Washington, D.C., were collected. Some of the dead had been interred on the battlefield, but most were full or partial remains discovered unburied where they died in combat. None were identifiable. Although Meigs had not intended to collect the remains of Confederate war dead, the inability to identify remains meant that both Union and Confederate dead were interred below the cenotaph he built. The vault was sealed in September 1866. Other Confederate battlefield dead were also buried at Arlington, and by the end of the war in April 1865 several hundred of the more than 16,000 graves at Arlington contained Confederate dead.
The federal government did not permit the decoration of Confederate graves at the cemetery, however. As Quartermaster General, Meigs had charge of the Arlington cemetery (he did not retire until February 6, 1882), and he refused to give families of Confederates buried there permission to lay flowers on their loved ones’ graves. In 1868, when families asked to lay flowers on Confederate graves on Decoration Day (now known as Memorial Day), Meigs ordered that the families be barred from the cemetery. Union veterans’ organizations such as the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR; whose membership was open only to Union soldiers) also felt that rebel graves should not be decorated. In 1869, GAR members stood watch over Confederate graves at Arlington National Cemetery to ensure they were not visibly honored on Decoration Day. Cemetery officials also refused to allow the erection of any monument to Confederate dead and declined to permit new Confederate burials (either by reburial or through the death of veterans).
The federal government’s policy toward Confederate graves at Arlington National Cemetery changed radically at the end of the 19th century.