History, History Column

War & Remembrance

By Sarah Becker

War & Remembrance

Conflict is often remembered by the men and women who cared: for the home front during war; for comrades and soldiers including burials, for the disabled and others. During the Revolutionary War Martha Washington successfully served as the public face of a women’s fund-raising campaign, a national campaign to provide soldiers with shirts. President George Washington, the country’s first commander-in-chief supported “a monument…to the American Revolution.”

But for the love of a good woman, George Washington’s Mount Vernon might never have been saved. The restoration effort was born of a boat ride, specifically Alexandria-born South Carolinian Louisa Bird Cunningham’s 1853 Potomac River cruise. May we always remember George Washington, his military service and the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union.

“I was painfully distressed at the ruin and desolation of the home of [General George] Washington, and the thought passed through my mind,” Cunningham wrote her 37-year-old daughter Ann Pamela. “Why was it the women of this country did not try to keep it in repair, if the men could not do it?”

The Dames of 1846 was established in Texas in 1901 in honor of the Soldiers of the War with Mexico. The Mexican War was West Point graduate Robert E. Lee’s first combat experience.

“As the mothers, wives and daughters of the warriors of 1846, we believe that the time is over-ripe for us to commemorate the bravery and devotion of those men who repelled the invader,” Dames of 1846 Founder and National Commandant Mrs. Moore Murdock wrote in 1905.

“The notable men and women of our early colonies have had their fortitude and heroism immortalized by the women [National Society Daughters of American Colonists] who trace their ancestry to gallant hands of pioneers in a New World,” Murdock continued. “The sublime thunders of the Declaration of Independence find to-day an echo in the song of an army of women [Daughters of the American Revolution].”

“But the most sacred record to the Southern heart, is that greatest one when neighbors having found argument vain, the seried ranks of Northern and Southern giants faced each other upon the bloodiest field that ever marked the conflicts of a world,” Murdock concluded. “As the ‘Daughters of the Confederacy’ the women of the South are correcting history…and rearing monuments to the men who lived and died for a cause that is invincible.”

The Civil War [1861-1865] was bloody and grave sites were in short supply. By January 1864 carnage was everywhere. “Of the look at first of the mortally wounded, (of that indescribable look,)” poet Walt Whitman wrote, “Of the dead on their backs with arms extended wide…”

President Abraham Lincoln, in consultation with his Quartermaster General, decided to bury some of the Union dead on the grounds of Arlington House, George Washington Parke Custis and his son-in-law Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s family home. The property was sold to the federal government on January 11, 1864—illegally so as of 1882—and declared a military cemetery.

On May 5, 1868, the War of Rebellion over, General John Anthony Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed May 30, 1868 Decoration Day. The Day was “for the purpose of…decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.”

Both Union and Confederate graves were decorated. The custom became a celebration, especially in the North. The South disengaged and remembered its soldiers separately.

In April 1885 Edgar Warfield and the R.E. Lee Camp of Virginia Confederate Veterans asked Alexandrians to construct a monument in honor of local veterans. In 1888 the Alexandria City Council approved the project, permitting placement of the controversial Statue—Appomattox—at the intersection of Prince and Washington Streets.

The Old Presbyterian Meeting House dedicated its Tomb of an Unknown Soldier of the Revolutionary War in 1929. More than 30 veterans of the War of 1812 are buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars 1941 World War I Memorial, located in Alexandria’s Union Station Plaza, celebrates, as of 1918, all who died in America’s wars. The Memorial’s base, its five inscribed steps begin with the War of Independence of 1776. The fourth step honors veterans of the 1898 Spanish-American War.
The Lyceum, established in 1839 as a center for learning, opened its World War I Centennial exhibit “Alexandrians Fight The Great War” on June 30. The exhibit, which ends Armistice [or Veterans] Day 2019, “examines the actions of local people during this watershed moment in American history.” The nearby Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum’s WWI exhibit explores “the Leadbeater family’s business contributions to America’s mobilization effort.”

In 1917 Jim Crow America entered Europe’s ongoing war. President Woodrow Wilson first promoted Peace without victory. Congress passed the Selective Service Act instead. Then in April the country voted overwhelmingly in favor of war. Soon after, the American War Mothers formed. Would-be voter Alice Paul and other NWP suffragettes picketed silently in front of the White House.

“Prior to World War I the country was happily isolationist,” Lyceum Director Jim MacKay said. “At home the war meant large scale aid programs to help refugees in Belgium and France. The war also meant wartime production jobs for thousands building ships and aircraft.” By 1918 women constituted 19% of the aircraft industry workforce. In Alexandria Guardsmen and draftees went to war and women “built hydroplanes” for Briggs Aeroplane Company.

“The unanswerable logic of suffrage as a war time issue finds its best demonstration [in the fact] that nine great states have extended suffrage to their women since 1915,” Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association said in 1918. Congress granted women the right to vote only 14 days before the 1919 peace Treaty of Versailles was signed.

The states ratified the 19th Amendment on August 26, 1920. The U.S. Supreme Court, despite Maryland’s refusal, “declared the 19th Amendment constitutional” in 1922. By World War II’s end, in 1945, Rosie the Riveter was a munitions icon and one out every four married women worked outside the home.
America’s segregated military ended with the Korean conflict in 1953. Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964; six months later Vietcong guerrillas attacked the U.S. military base at Pleiku and the U.S. went to war. The 1973 four-party Paris peace agreement included North Vietnam, the Vietcong, South Vietnam and the United States. Alexandria’s Captain Rocky Versace Plaza and Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial was dedicated in 2002.

“To see men without Cloat[hes] to cover their nakedness—without Blankets to lay on—without Shoes, by which their Marches might be traced by the Blood from their feet—and almost as often without Provisions as with; Marching through frost and Snow…is a Mark of patience & obedience which…can scarce be parallel’d,” General George Washington wrote from Valley Forge in 1778.

Veterans Day originated as Armistice Day on November 11, 1919, the first anniversary marking the end of World War I. Remember the fallen, our soldiers and their families this Veterans Day.

Sarah Becker started writing for The Economist while a graduate student in England. Similar publications followed. She joined the Crier in 1996 while serving on the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association Board. Her interest in antiquities began as a World Bank hire, with Indonesia’s need to generate hard currency. Balinese history, i.e. tourism provided the means. The New York Times describes Becker’s book, Off Your Duffs & Up the Assets, as “a blueprint for thousands of nonprofit managers.” A former museum director, SLAM’s saving grace Sarah received Alexandria’s Salute to Women Award in 2007. Email: abitofhistory53@gmail.com.

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