ECW Weekender: Congressional Cemetery

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Cemeteries have always been a place designed to bring people together. While that may sound strange at first, the concept allows one to get a glimpse into the life of average 19th-century Americans. With many burgeoning cities throughout the country, cemeteries were set-up as full-fledged parks for people to escape to. These were different than graveyards, unaffiliated with specific churches and a place for picnics and games. One of the most famous cemeteries in the South that many are familiar are is Hollywood, in Richmond. Washington, D.C., on the other hand, has Congressional Cemetery.

Established in 1807 on the eastern side of the city not far from the Anacostia River, Congressional came to be the final resting place for many Civil War luminaries. Chief of Staff of the Army of Potomac and Second Corps commander Andrew Humphreys is there, so too is Mathew Brady. Brady actually has two stones. The man whose exposures have revealed the realities of the war to generations died penniless. His original stone had the date of his death incorrect; a newer stone dedicated in 1988 corrects the record.

Mathew Brady's original tombstone, bearing the incorrect death year of 1895.

Mathew Brady’s original tombstone, bearing the incorrect death year of 1895. (RQ)


And the newer stone, dedicated in 1988 bearing the correct year: 1896. (RQ)

The victims of the Washington Arsenal explosion are also there, interred under a large memorial with limestone tablets that are proving hard to read with the passing of time.

With Union soldiers, and women of the North’s industrial work force, there are also those who sought to cripple the Federal government. Buried amongst his family plot, but without a specific tombstone is David Herold, executed for his involvement in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

As one walks around, they also discover non-Civil War figures. J. Edgar Hoover, first director of the FBI, and John Philip Sousa, the famous composer, can both be found in Congressional Cemetery.

It is easy to wander around Congressional and get lost among the stories and stones of the cemetery. Today it has some 65,000 interments, many of which are marked with beautiful and unique headstones, making it interesting just to look out over the cemetery. And just as it had been utilized in the 19th century, Congressional is still home to events that bring the public to its storied walks.

The memorial to the victims of the Washington Arsenal Explosion that occurred in June, 1864.

The memorial to the victims of the Washington Arsenal Explosion that occurred in June, 1864. (RQ)


Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

Congressional Cemetery website

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