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Home : News
NEWS | Oct. 5, 2018

New York Guard honors 21st president Chester A. Arthur

By Eric Durr New York National Guard

MENANDS, N.Y. - Chester A. Arthur, a New York militia officer who became president, provided steady leadership during a period of change and anxiety, growth and optimism in our nation, New York Air National Guard Brig. Gen. Timothy LaBarge told a small audience gathered Friday at Albany Rural.

LaBarge, the director of the Joint Staff for the New York National Guard, presented a wreath from President Donald Trump at Arthur's gravesite in the historic cemetery on the 189th anniversary of his birth in 1829.

The United States military traditionally lays a wreath at the graves of presidents of the United States on the anniversary of their birth. The wreaths are from the current president to former presidents.

The short ceremony included an honor cordon and color guard provided by the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing.

Arthur served as president from 1881 to 1885. He became president following the assassination of President James A. Garfield.

The period of Reconstruction following the Civil War had ended and the American economy was taking off, LaBarge said. Arthur provided steady leadership while reforming the Civil Service, deciding how to use a budget surplus, and overseeing the birth of the modern U.S. Navy, he said.

He made "difficult choices for a difficult time," LaBarge said.

Arthur was an active member of the New York Militia, renamed the National Guard New York in 1862. He served as the chief engineer and then quartermaster general. In that role he was responsible for recruiting and equipping 120,000 Union Soldiers.

A small group attended the ceremony, held annually at Albany Rural Cemetery.

Carol Felson, a member of the Mohawk Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Daughters of 1812, said she and a few other members of the group try to attend these kinds of events because of its historic nature.

Donna Van Slat, said she came to the wreath laying as an outing for her 6-year old grandson Connor Cervani.

"We promised him an outing and said we could have a hike," she explained.

The cemetery, located north of the city of Albany, is noted for its beauty and historic monuments and is a popular destination for runners and dog walkers.

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.

Arthur, a former school teacher in nearby Vermont, was a lawyer and a Republican politician before being elected vice president in 1880. He became president on Sept. 19, 1881, when President James Garfield died from a bullet wound suffered at the hands of an assassin on July 2, 1881.

Born in Vermont, Arthur attended Union College in Schenectady for both his bachelors and advanced degrees and lived in Hoosick, New York.

He worked as a lawyer and was active in Republican politics and also served as the judge advocate general of the New York National Guard, then known as the New York State Militia. In this capacity he drafted a military law that restructured the organization.

From 1871 to 1878, he was the chief customs inspector in New York City and the leader of the "Stalwart" wing of the Republican Party.

During his time in office, Arthur promoted the first federal Civil Service Law, oversaw the implementation of the first law governing immigration, and organized an international conference that set the prime meridian - used for determining a place on Earth and for time keeping - as running through Greenwich, England.

Arthur, who had been in poor health during the latter part of his term, died on Nov. 19, 1886, of a cerebral hemorrhage less than a year after leaving office, and is buried next to his wife Ellen who died of pneumonia in 1880.