Out of the Attic – Soldiers Cemetery and Protest


In 1862, the U.S. Congress passed and President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation authorizing the establishment of military cemeteries. That same year, Alexandria National Cemetery, located at 1450 Wilkes Street and seen in this Civil War-era photograph, was one of 14 sites designated as burial grounds for soldiers.

Of the 3,533 Civil War veterans buried at Alexandria National Cemetery, more than 200 soldiers were African Americans who had served with the United States Colored Troops. But some of them had originally been buried at the Freedmens Cemetery on South Washington Street, which opened in 1864.

In December 1864, 443 African American soldiers being treated at LOuverture Hospital in Alexandria signed a letter of protest because their fallen comrades were not being buried at the Soldiers Cemetery, as the national cemetery was often called. They wrote in part, As American citizens, we have a right to fight for the protection of her flag, that right is granted, and we are now sharing equally the dangers and hardships in this mighty contest, and should shair (sic) the same privileges and rights of burial in every way with our fellow soldiers, who only differ from us in color.

Their protest was heard and their requests were granted. Future burials of African American soldiers were made at Alexandria National Cemetery, and the following year 122 soldiers of color who had been buried at Freedmens Cemetery were removed and re-interred at Alexandria National Cemetery.