MENANDS, N.Y. – The New York Army National Guard recognized the 21st president of the United States, Chester Arthur, during a rainy ceremony at his grave in Albany Rural Cemetery Oct. 5, the 193rd anniversary of his birth in rural Vermont.
Army Maj. Gen. Michel Natali, the assistant adjutant general of the New York National Guard, presented a wreath from President Joseph Biden 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 graves of his predecessors on their birthdays. 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.
Natali told the 40 people who assembled for the ceremony that Arthur has particular significance for the New York National Guard 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, responsible for clothing, equipping and providing weapons for many of the 300 regiments New York raised for the war.
Arthur was strongly opposed to slavery. As a young lawyer in 1854, he handled a precedent-setting lawsuit that allowed Black New Yorkers to ride alongside their white neighbors on public transportation, Natali said.
Arthur became president unexpectedly when James Garfield was assassinated in 1881.
Because of his reputation as a partisan Republican, he was expected to ensure that those within his faction of the party were rewarded, Natali said.
But Arthur went after government corruption and created the federal civil service based on merit.
Natali quoted publisher Alexander McClure as saying, “No man ever entered the presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted, and no one ever retired … more generally respected.”
Arthur also signed the law allowing the Navy to build four steel ships, the start of the modern Navy, Natali said.
Members of the Col. George L. Willard Camp of the Sons of Union Veterans, a group of men whose ancestors served in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, attended the ceremony wearing reproduction Union Army uniforms and presented a wreath.
Tim Murphy said he attended because he is a fan of Chester Arthur.
“Arthur was a good president, and it is great to see him remembered,” Murphy said.
Arthur died in New York City in November 1886 due to complications from kidney disease. He was buried in Albany Rural Cemetery where his wife, who died in 1880 from pneumonia, was interred.
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.
In 1889, an elaborate marker featuring a granite sarcophagus and bronze statue of a weeping angel was placed on the plot.