The Other Unknown Soldier


By Shelley Davis
Stars and Stripes Historian


The Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery is one of the most visited sites in the Washington, D.C., area, but hardly anyone visits the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the Revolutionary War. In fact, most tourists and many longtime area residents are unaware of the Revolutionary soldier's gravesite. But there it is, nestled among a few other marble slabs at the rear of the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Old Town Alexandria, just a few blocks from the Potomac and several miles upriver from George Washington's Mount Vernon home.


On President's Day 2001, a small group of reenactors representing riflemen of the 1st Virginia Regiment gathered at the meeting house to honor the unknown soldier of Washington's era. The keynote speaker was retired Army Col. Neale Cosby, president of the Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and treasurer of the United States Capitol Historical Society. Cosby spoke of the "responsibility to carry the heavy memories of our past," warning that the nation could lose its cultural memory unless its citizens "take constant reminders to refresh our memory."


At the ceremony, attended by members of the Daughters and Sons of the American Revolution along with a contingent of Boy Scouts, two wreaths were placed at the foot of the elevated gravesite. Members of the 1st Virginia Regiment offered a 21-gun salute while those present laid red and white carnations on the tomb as a fife and drum quartet played in the background.


'Known But To God'

The inscription on the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier is remarkably similar to the inscription on the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington. The first reads, "Here lies a soldier of the Revolution whose identity is known but to God." The other: "Here reset in honored glory an American soldier known but to God." By the time a 50-ton block of Colorado marble was in place at Arlington, the grave of the Revolutionary soldier had been rediscovered 100 years earlier.


In 1821, as workers dug a foundation for a Catholic chapel behind the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, they found the unmarked grave, with an ammunition box serving as a coffin. "His tattered uniform identified him as a Revolutionary soldier and the buttons showed he was from Kentucky," a newspaper reported. On Jan. 21, 1821, the soldier's remains were reinterred in the cemetery behind the meeting house, which also held the grave of James Craik, the personal physician of George Washington, who was at his side when he died.


The small cemetery, open for visitors, is sheltered by trees and furnished with benches for peaceful contemplation. There are no guards before the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier; only a small wrought-iron fence surrounds the gravesite.


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