Descendants of the first servicemember buried in what eventually became Arlington National Cemetery, portions of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) and The U.S. Army Band, “Pershing’s Own,” assembled at the cemetery’s Section 27 for wreath-laying tributes to Pvt. William Henry Christman.
With the Ord and Weitzel Gate and the Netherlands Carillon as backdrops, the Department of the Army and a crowd close to 100 civilian visitors commemorated the origins of Arlington National Cemetery May 13-150 years exactly to the day when Pvt. Christman of Tobyhanna Township, Monroe County, Pa., was buried in Virginia soil overlooking the capitol city.
Two wreath-laying tributes took place at the Christman gravesite – one by the Department of the Army and the second led by Christman ancestors. Great-grand nephew James Christman, who was one of the family members present, told the Pentagram that his family learned their relative was buried in Arlington within the last year.
“This is the first time I’ve been to his plot,” James said. “I was kind of awe struck walking up to the grave. I’ve been to Arlington one other time for the burial of a friend of the family not knowing that I have a family member buried here.
“It means a lot to be a part of history, where William was the first Soldier buried here,” he continued. “I’ll share this with friends and other family members. This was a great, great honor today.”
Barbara Christman Page, the private’s great-grand niece, also participated in the wreath laying and explained the circumstances behind William’s enlistment and his death at Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Hospital.
She told the media William enlisted in the Union Army in tribute to his brother, Barnabas. She said the Historical Association of Tobyhanna Township of Monroe County, Pa., revealed Barnabas, a member of Company F of the 4th Regiment, Pennsylvania Reserve Infantry (33rd Volunteers), was killed June 30, 1862 at Charles City Cross Roads, Va. After joining the Federal forces March 24, 1864 and nearly two years following his brother’s death, William’s own passing and burial became part of the opening chapter of the Arlington National Cemetery history book.
“He never got to battle,” Barbara explained. “He became ill shortly after they arrived here, and he was hospitalized with measles and during that course of hospitalization, he developed peritonitis, an inflammation of the bowel and never survived.”
The Christman wreath-laying ceremony is the beginning of a five-week sesquicentennial commemoration. Through June, the cemetery will host lectures, walks and tours to provide the public different standpoints of the cemetery, those buried there and the military conflicts that shaped ANC.
Details about Arlington at 150 events are available at www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/Events/ANC150.aspx .