MENANDS, New York -The New York Army National Guard recognized the 21st President of the United States, Chester Arthur, during a rainy ceremony at his grave site in Albany Rural Cemetery on October 5, 2022, the 193rd anniversary of his birth in rural Vermont.
Army Major General Michel Natali, the assistant adjutant general of the New York National Guard, presented a wreath from President Joseph Biden, honoring his predecessor, as taps sounded, and an honor cordon of Soldiers presented arms.
Natali was carrying on a tradition that began in 1967 when President Lyndon Baines Johnson sent wreaths to be presented at the gravesites of his predecessors on their birthday. Every president since then has carried on the tradition, Natali said.
“It’s important that we remember the accomplishments of our previous presidents,” Natali said.
Arthur has particular significance for the New York National Guard, Natali told the 40 people who assembled for the ceremony, because he served as a brigadier general in the New York State Militia.
During the Civil War he supervised the construction and maintenance of fortifications guarding New York Harbor as chief engineer, and went on to serve as inspector general, visiting New York troops in the field, Natali said.
Ultimately, he was named quartermaster general with the responsibility for clothing, equipping and providing weapons for many of the 300 regiments New York raised for the war, Natali said.
Arthur was strongly opposed to slavery, and as a young lawyer in 1854 he handled a precedent-setting lawsuit which allowed Black New Yorkers to ride along side their White neighbors on public transportation in New York, Natali said.
Arthur became president unexpectedly, when James Garfield was killed by an assassin in 1881.
Because of his reputation as a partisan Republican politician, it was expected that he would ensure that those within his faction of the party were rewarded, Natali said.
But Arthur surprised everybody, by going after government corruption and creating the federal civil service based on merit.
“Publisher Alexander McClure said that ‘no man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired…more generally respected,’” Natali said.
Arthur also signed the law allowing the Navy to build four steel ships, the start of the modern Navy, he said.
Members of the Col. George L. Willard Camp of the Sons of Union Veterans, a group made up of men whose ancestors served in the United States Army during the Civil War, attended wearing reproduction Union Army uniforms and also presented a wreath.
Tim Murphy, a resident of Rensselaer, New York, said he made time to attend the ceremony because he is a fan of Chester Arthur.
Arthur was a good president and it is great to see him remembered,” Murphy said.
Joan Faxon, from North Greenbush, New York, said she enjoys walking her dog in the cemetery and came because she finds the events held there fascinating.
Located five miles from New York’s capital, the 175-year-old cemetery is famous for its landscaping and sculptured memorials.
Arthur died in New York City in November 1886 due to complications from a kidney disease which he hid while in office. He was buried in Albany Rural Cemetery, because his wife, who had died in 1880 from pneumonia was interred there.
In 1889 a elaborate marker featuring a granite sarcophagus and bronze statue of a weeping angel was placed on the plot.
The writer Mark Twain praised Arthur upon his death.
“I am but one in 55,000,000; still, in the opinion of this one-fifty-five-millionth of the country’s population, it would be hard to better President Arthur’s administration,” Twain wrote.