For the last six years I’ve had the pleasure to make trips to Washington, D.C. My daughter attended college there and then stayed on at a job. But she has now moved on to grad school in another state. With each visit I worked my way down a checklist of places I wanted to visit, and photograph. During one of my last visits in April, I made it a point to to check off a personal one.
I had two ancestors that served for the Union in the Civil War, my great grandfather, Calvin Pratt, and his older brother, Thomas. Thomas enlisted in Little Valley, N.Y. in late 1861 with the 64th N.Y. The regiment fought in many of the early battles including Fair Oaks and Antietam. When Calvin turned 18, he enlisted to join his brother, arriving just after the battle of Antietam. He was transported to a Washington, D.C. hospital and died three weeks later on January 3, 1863. Calvin served to the end of the war, wounded once at Spotsylvania.
In 2008, my mother helped me locate Calvin’s grave. He rests at a small country cemetery near New Albion, N.Y. in Cattaraugus county. But nobody in the family knew anything about Thomas, except that he died in the war.
Through research I learned he was buried at Soldiers Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., a beautiful but little-known location that was the first National Cemetery in the U.S., pre-dating Arlington by three years. Located three miles north of the White House, it’s on the same grounds as the Lincoln Cottage, where the President spent his summers to get out of the oppressive heat and stench of the city. It’s also the home of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, built for veterans of the war with Mexico and dating to the 1850’s.
I arrived at the cemetery early on a weekday. The gates were open with only people walking their dogs or jogging through the grounds. The office was closed so I could not look up a location in the directory. Without a specific location it would take me days to find his marker. So I called the main number for Arlington Cemetery (they manage the grounds), and after about two minutes of automated phone hell, was connected to a volunteer in the graves division. The woman I spoke with was kind and professional. She asked for name date of death and unit. A few moments later she told me the section and grave number.
It only took a few minutes to find it, in the southern corner of the cemetery, directly under a large tree. He was in good company, I trust, with Private H. T. Booth of Connecticut on one side and Private Henry Rowe of Michigan on the other (now separated by a tree). As I was leaving, a small funeral procession with military escort pulled through the gates. Apparently there are about 200 grave sites sill available.
Thank you Arlington for keeping such records and making them available. And thank you, Thomas and Calvin, for your service to your country.