Get ready to correct people if you tell them you’re headed to Alexandria National Cemetery. “You mean Arlington?” is something you’ll hear a lot. But this lesser-traversed destination just west of Old Town makes up for what it lacks in modern-day fame with history. What was originally known as Soldiers’ Cemetery is one of the original 14 national burial grounds established in 1862, thanks to its town’s pivotal location during the Civil War as the Union Army defended Washington, DC, across the Potomac. Within two years, the 5.5 acres here were nearly full, prompting the creation of Arlington National Cemetery 5 miles north. Officially closed to new burials as of 1967, Alexandria is the final resting spot for more than 4,000 people, mostly Union soldiers. (Among the few civilians are the four men who died chasing down John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated Abraham Lincoln.) You won’t find any Confederate soldiers’ tombstones here, though—39 POWs were once interred in Alexandria National Cemetery, but the Daughters of the Confederacy dug them up and moved them by 1879, mostly to the nearby Christ Church Cemetery. Both are part of the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex, which connects several resting places, including some devoted to Black and Jewish populations. Want to pay your respects at any of these hallowed grounds? There’s no time like the 31st of this month—Memorial Day.
Instead of the popular Arlington National Cemetery, make a trip to Alexandria National Cemetery this Memorial Day.