As the nation reflects on the service of the men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces on Memorial Day, residents of West Virginia take part in a tradition extending back to the years immediately following the American Civil War. West Virginia's state and national leaders annually join with veterans and civilians in the remembrance of Memorial Day at Grafton National Cemetery. Recently, Byrd Center intern Zachary Garver uncovered speeches given by Senator Robert C. Byrd and Congressman Harley O. Staggers, Sr. at these annual ceremonies at West Virginia's oldest national military cemetery.
Grafton National Cemetery was established in 1867-1868 as a burial site for Civil War soldiers. Montgomery C. Meigs, Quartermaster General of the Union Army and one of the principal architects of Arlington National Cemetery contributed to the designs for the new cemetery, including its terraced landscape and original superintendent's lodge. The cemetery was dedicated on June 14, 1868 by West Virginia's first Governor, Arthur Boreman. In its first years of operation, over 1,200 Union soldiers were reinterred from various parts of the state to the national cemetery in Grafton. In 1903, Private Thornesberry Bailey Brown, believed to be the first Union soldier killed in the Civil War, was reinterred at Grafton National Cemetery where a special monument was dedicated to his memory.