Civil War Profiles: Researching Delaware graves at Arlington National Cemetery


The endless rows of white headstones that spill across the rolling hills of Arlington National Cemetery are a startling reminder of the costliest four years in our country’s military history. One of the main areas for interment of Civil War soldiers is Section 13.

A walk through the burial grounds in this section reveals the places of origin of these heroic men, but in no set pattern. Prominent among them are New York and Pennsylvania, given these two states contributed the most soldiers to the Union cause. Others include: Maryland, West Virginia, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Kansas.

Sprinkled among those states are men who fought and died with Delaware regiments. In the gravestones’ simplicity, only the soldier’s name and state are displayed in the encompassing shield design. No other information, such as company and regimental designation, distracts from purely personal identification. Otherwise, how these soldiers performed and what was the cause of death is left to the imagination.

Perry Bateman, Livingston Sayer, Sam’l Reynolds, Joshua Keyes, and Lee Dunnington are just some of the Delaware names found in Section 13. Since Arlington National Cemetery does not maintain databases by state of origin; the total number of those who served with Delaware units buried there are not readily available.

A search of the online Civil War Soldiers and Sailors database (http://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm) identifies four of the five above-mentioned names as having served in Delaware units. Sayer in the 2nd Delaware Infantry, and Bateman, Reynolds and Keyes in the 4th Delaware Infantry. Only Dunnington was not associated with a specific unit.

The online Delaware Public Archives Compiled Service Record Company & Regiment Lookup database (http://archives.delaware.gov/CivilWar/service-records/search_unit_roll.s...) confirms the service of four of these men, and adds that Sayer served in Company D of the 2nd Delaware. Dunnington again was not identified as having served in a state unit, despite his gravestone attributing his service to Delaware.

For those who would like to plan a trip to Arlington National Cemetery, start with their website (http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/) that provides directions, describes tours, and discusses ANC Explorer, a web-based and mobile application that enables families, visitors and the public to locate gravesites, events or other points of interest throughout the cemetery; view front-and-back headstone photos and points of interest; and receive directions to those locations.

From the website, you can also download a map of the cemetery, with the various sections clearly marked. The map includes an index listing places of interest and notable graves in certain sections. For Civil War burials in general, however, the cemetery identifies Sections 1, 13 and 27 as the most prominent places to locate them.

Upon arrival at Arlington National Cemetery, begin with a stop at the spacious Visitor Center to take in the displays that introduce you to the cemetery, and check out the extensive book store and souvenir shop. Since auto access to the grounds is not permitted, except for handicapped individuals who can obtain a special pass, sign up for an interpretive bus tour that includes stops at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the John F. Kennedy gravesite with the Eternal Flame.

Meandering through the cemetery areas, one senses that hovering souls are aware the visitor is reading names and surmising whether their spirits are present. That these spirits would welcome human presence is understandable upon experiencing the solitude that pervades the landscape.

Every American should visit Arlington National Cemetery at least once in their lifetime. Its origin stems from the early days of the Civil War when Union soldiers were laid to rest on the grounds of Robert E. Lee’s and his wife Mary’s abandoned Arlington plantation.

Certain venues in the cemetery cause the observer to be awestruck at the massive repetition of gravestones as far as the eye can see. The cumulative display of mortality is not easy to comprehend.

Bethany Beach resident Thomas J. Ryan is the author of “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War” (available at Bethany Beach Books or from www.tomryan-civilwar.com). Contact him at pennmardel@mchsi.com.