Asbury Haynes wearing the overcoat he wore in the procession
100 years ago today, November 11, 1921, an unknown American soldier killed in World War I was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Washington D.C. A large procession and ceremony marked this important and historic occasion. Known since as The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it has become an important and powerful symbol of the patriotism, courage and sacrifice of the American soldier.
Frank M. O’Brien, writing in the New York Herald, explained its significance. “It is an entombment only in the physical sense. It is rather the enthronement of Duty and Honor. This man who died for his country is the symbol of these qualities; a far more perfect symbol than any man could be whose name and deeds we knew. He represents more, really, than the unidentified dead, for we cannot separate them spiritually from the war heroes whose names are written on their gravestones. He – this spirit whom we honor – stands for the unselfishness of all.”
In October, Seattle Civil War veteran Corporal Asbury Farnum Haynes had received an invitation from the War Department to be present for the ceremony. All surviving Medal of Honor men were invited to be part of the procession bearing the body of the Unknown Soldier to Arlington and to be present for the burial ceremony. Haynes received the Medal of Honor during the Civil War for his courageous actions in capturing the battle flag of the 21st North Carolina infantry at the Battle of Saylers Creek in April of 1865. Haynes recounted the experience, “I remember as yesterday, my Captain sent me to Washington with the flag I had captured. I walked into the office of Secretary Stanton and I said, ‘Secretary, I have the honor to present you with a captured flag.’ He replied, ‘Corporal, I salute you and I thank you in the name of the people of the United States and the President of the United States.’ Then I got my medal.”
The 79 year old Seattle veteran was extremely honored and anxious to be present in Washington D.C. for the ceremony.
In an unfortunate turn of events, just a week before he was to depart for the nation’s capital, he received a second letter from the War Department, this one informing him that due to a technicality, there was actually no funding available for his trip and the government would not be providing for him to make the journey. The War department informed him, despite being invited, they would only be covering expenses for those who had received their Medals of Honor during the World War. Haynes was devastated and heartbroken. He took his sad case to Addison Hastie, a leading man in Seattle’s Grand Army of the Republic, for assistance. Mr. Hastie helped begin some fundraising efforts and was able to gather together a portion of the funds required, but it was far from sufficient. The Daughters of the GAR and the United Daughters of the Confederacy helped, as did private citizens, but still the funds were insufficient for him to make the trip. On November 1, the Seattle Times wrote in an article about Haynes situation, “Shall an old soldier of the United States, a Medal of Honor man of the Civil war, be thwarted of his supreme desire to go to Washington D.C. to attend the burial of America’s unknown soldier November 11th in Arlington Cemetery? Shall a few dollars stand in the way of the fulfillment of Asbury F. Haynes desire?”
At this point, just days before he was to depart for the East, the Seattle Times newspaper stepped in and promised to meet any and all remaining funding needs to send Corporal Haynes to Washington. The Times announced its intentions, saying that the “supreme desire of the old soldier’s heart will be gratified. Irrespective of the amount raised by others on Haynes’ behalf, be it much or little, the Times will make up the balance. Mr. Haynes will go to Washington as Seattle’s G.A.R. Medal of Honor man to march from the Capitol to Arlington Cemetery during the ceremonies there.”
Upon receipt of this news, Haynes was overcome with emotion replying through tears and with a trembling voice “I shall be very proud to represent the good people of Seattle. I wish to thank them all for their kindness and generosity.” He was noted as being the “happiest man in Seattle” once his fortunes had been reversed regarding the trip to Washington.
It was Haynes' expressed wish to wear a uniform in the procession that was the same as he had worn during his last time in the nation’s capital in 1865. He searched the stores of Seattle for an appropriate suit of blue and a sky blue overcoat, which he was able to locate with some persistence. At 7pm on the evening of November 5th, Corporal Asbury boarded a train east.
Seen off by friends, comrades and supporters, with tear-filled eyes he told them “Good bye, my friends, may God Bless you. I don’t know who I must thank most. The Times, Mrs J.H. Connell, or my friends in general. I guess I owe thanks to all.” He continued, “I’m going to march right along with the young fellows and show them what kind of men we have out here in Seattle.” Finally, he added that he would “like to meet President Harding. The trip would be complete if I could shake hands with that great man.”
Once arrived in Washington, Corporal Haynes took accommodations at the Soldiers Home among old comrades of the Civil War. On the day of the procession and ceremony, Haynes donned his sky blue overcoat and marched in the front rank of the Medal of Honor men in the line of march. The Medal of Honor men marched 8 abreast and held a spot towards the middle of the procession being just ahead of the United States Senators and Representatives. Haynes’ being the only one wearing a Civil War style overcoat, he stood out among the others marching and he received notable cheers as the observers recognized him and having been a Medal of Honor man from the Civil War. The men also were just ahead of the horse and carriage that transported former President Woodrow Wilson and his wife. Due to poor health, former President Wilson was the only living person drawn by carriage in the procession. As that portion of the procession passed near the White House, the carriage left the line of march to return the ailing former president indoors at his residence. Despite his frail health, he was still determined to take part in the procession and did so just behind the Medal of Honor men and Asbury Haynes. The procession was delayed at this point as they redirected former President Wilson’s carriage and the group was paused just in front of the White House gate from which President Harding was viewing. During the delay, President Harding then walked out into the street to shake the hands of the Medal of Honor men individually. Asbury Haynes also received his wish of getting to meet President Harding. The procession continued on and ended at the amphitheater where the ceremony and internment of the unknown soldier took place.
100 years ago this day, Corporal Asbury Haynes, Civil War Medal of Honor recipient of the 17th Maine Infantry and long-time Seattle resident proudly fulfilled his role in honoring all of America’s fighting men at the burial of the unknown soldiers, November 11, 1921.
Burial ceremony of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery
Seattle Daily Times November 1-11, 1921
New York Herald Nov 11, 1921
Tacoma News Tribune Nov 11, 1921