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DC Cherry Blossoms and Civil War Graves

Cherry Tree in Blossom along Wilson Drive in Arlington National Cemetery (2016 Photo by S. H. Smith)
Cherry Tree in Blossom along Wilson Drive in Arlington National Cemetery (2016 Photo by S. H. Smith)

Last Saturday I took a break from viewing the blossoming Japanese cherry trees in Washington DC and took a walk across Arlington Memorial Bridge in search of the headstone of a local Civil War soldier buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The Cemetery Visitor Center provided me with directions to the gravesite of Joseph Edward Lawson.

Cherry trees were also in blossom within the cemetery. This photo was taken along Wilson Drive. If you are reading this on the Ydr.com site, click on this LINK for a Full View of the illustrations in this post on the original YorkBlog site; since the ydr.com site will occasionally cut off important details in the cropping of illustrations.

While walking along McPherson Drive I noticed a Civil War headstone being enveloped by tree roots. A nearby person in grounds maintenance told me roots of older trees in the cemetery are allowed to grow around headstones. Once the tree roots start to obscure the name, the headstone is left in place, however a footstone is added to mark the grave.

Civil War headstone along McPherson Drive in Arlington National Cemetery (2016 Photo by S. H. Smith)
Civil War headstone along McPherson Drive in Arlington National Cemetery (2016 Photo by S. H. Smith)

This headstone shows the style of Arlington gravestone used for Civil War soldiers and sailors, who fought for the Union; i.e. a headstone featuring the Civil War Union Shield. There are several styles of this shield; most are an indented shield outline with indented letters (like this one) or a full shield indentation with raised letters (like the Lawson headstone, at the end of this post). The variations are due to the different materials and/or methods of fabricating headstones used at any particular time.

Joseph Edward Lawson (1844-1929)

Joseph Edward Lawson was one of the eleven charter members of the David E. Small Post, No. 369, Grand Army of the Republic. This African American G.A.R. post was established in York, Pennsylvania on August 23, 1883. On September 21, 1900, Lawson was installed as the Post Commander and was active in the affairs of the post for the next quarter of a century.

Although not a native Yorker, Joseph E. Lawson, lived in York for thirty years. Early in his life he lived in Washington, D.C., where his name is primarily recorded as either J. Edward or just Edward. Edward is the name he used when enlisting in the United States Colored Troops at the age of 18-years old, on July 27, 1863. Edward Lawson served in Company H of the 1st Regiment of the United States Colored Infantry for the duration of the Civil War. This regiment trained on Mason’s Island in the Potomac River. Mason’s Island was located just west of downtown Washington, D.C.; it is now known as Roosevelt Island.

Besides his Civil War service, Edward Lawson also served five years in Company E of the 25th Regiment of United States Infantry from December 14, 1869 until December 14, 1874. For most of this service, Edward was stationed at either Fort Duncan or Fort Concho in Texas.

The 1900 United States Census records J. E. Lawson, a servant, residing with his family at 14 South Street in York, PA. He had been married to his wife Caroline for 19 years and they had two children, Hattie and Walter; both born in Pennsylvania, during August 1882 and July 1884, respectively.

Lawson first appears in York City directories during 1881. Looking at all the pertinent information, in all likelihood, this family resided in York from their marriage in 1881 until 1885, with their two children being born in York. York City directories from 1886 to 1897 do not have a listing for J. E. Lawson, however these are the exact years when J. E. Lawson, and the like variants, show up in Washington, D.C. directories. In 1898, the directory listings flip-flop again, J. Edward Lawson reappears in the York City directory and disappears from the Washington, D.C. directory. In either of the directories there are no other Lawson entries close to J. E., J. Edward, Joseph E., Joseph Edward or the like.

Joseph E. Lawson likely moved his family to Washington, D.C. in 1886 for better job opportunities. Lawson does get a job as a Porter, however soon he is consistently listed as a Laborer in Washington, D.C. directories. A July 1891, Register of Civil Employees of the United States listed “Laborers on Building for Library of Congress;” “Joseph E. Lawson” is one of the names recorded under that heading. Is this the same Joseph E. Lawson who was the African American Civil War veteran? Let’s look at the history of the Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress was housed within several rooms inside the Capitol until a separate Library of Congress Building was constructed during the 1890s. The massive Library of Congress Building opened in 1897, and after a much later expansion, that first building became known as the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. I do not think it is a coincidence that soon after the Library of Congress Building was completed in 1897, that the Civil War veteran Joseph E. Lawson moves his family back to York, PA in 1898.

In York, Lawson’s son, Walter T. Lawson, becomes a barber and moves back to Washington, D.C. to establish his business. Lawson’s daughter, Hattie V. Lawson is married to John A. Jones in York on April 7, 1903. Joseph E. and Caroline Lawson reside at 527 S. Court Avenue in York until the mid-1920s.

In Joseph E. and Caroline Lawson’s old age they move into their son’s residence at 925 Westminister St., N. W. in Washington, D.C. Caroline Lawson died on September 9, 1927, and is buried at gravesite 16114-E in Arlington National Cemetery. On January 15, 1929, “Edward Lawson” is admitted to Walter Reed Hospital and dies there on January 21. The notice of deaths within the January 23, 1929, issue of the Washington Post noted “Joseph E. Lawson” died at Walter Reed Hospital.

W. Ernest Jarvis Co., Funeral Directors and Embalmers, handled the arrangements. In their bill to Walter Lawson, they noted, “For the funeral of Joseph Edward Lawson who died January 20, 1929 and was buried in Arlington Cemetery … Removal from Walter Reed Hospital $10.” The date of death is the 21st for all other sources, therefore the 20th is an error by the funeral director.

Civil War headstone of Edward Lawson (1844-1929) in Arlington National Cemetery (2016 Photo by S. H. Smith)
Civil War headstone of Edward Lawson (1844-1929) in Arlington National Cemetery (2016 Photo by S. H. Smith)

The Arlington National Cemetery interment card notes Edward Lawson was buried February 2, 1929 with his wife Caroline at gravesite 16114-E in Arlington National Cemetery. This is their headstone; it is located 5 rows east of McPherson Drive and 12 headstones north of Lawton Drive. The headstone faces Washington, D.C. and U.S.C.T. on the headstone is the abbreviation for United States Colored Troops.

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