- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2008

In life, he was a hero of the War of 1812 and one of the Army’s longest-serving top commanders.

In death, he suffered the indignity of a neglected cemetery. The ground above him was sometimes unkempt and soiled by neighborhood dogs, and his burial vault had nearly collapsed from water damage. As a result, his 13-foot-tall white marble monument was listing noticeably, and his lead-lined coffin was damaged.

But the remains of Gen. Alexander Macomb and wife Mary Catherine were reburied Thursday in a new tomb under the same 7-ton memorial stone. Sixty descendants, military officers, enlisted men and federal employees attended the ceremony and a service in the cemetery’s chapel.

“It’s so good to see that present military still hold long-dead veterans in such high regard that they come out to honor them,” said Adele Boyer, a member of the daughters of the war of 1812.

His resting place, the privately run Congressional Cemetery on the Anacostia River in Southeast, was established in 1807 by private citizens and later given toChrist Church. During the 1960s and ‘70s, the cemetery fell into disrepair and faced abandonment.

Macomb was never completely forgotten, however, thanks in part to an imposing downtown memorial statue in his native Detroit. There is also a street named after him in the Woodley Park area, and towns and counties around the country named after him.

The visiting descendants complained of trash-strewn grounds overgrown with weeds and vines. A senator who heard such a complaint at the time confessed to never having heard of their namesake cemetery, though it is the burial ground for several of his predecessors, major figures of the 19th century, as well as former FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, Civil War photographer Matthew Brady and military march composer John Philip Sousa.

In 1976, the Association for the Preservation of Historic Congressional Cemetery, a nonprofit group dependent on donations, was formed to take over management of the site.

Macomb’s tomb was dug up after National Park Service employees working in the neighborhood noticed the monument was tilting. The repairs were funded by the Veterans Administration.

Laurie E. Burgess, associate chairwoman of the Department of Anthropology for the Smithsonian Institution, said that the museum was surprised by the existence of the tomb, and more surprised by the condition of the remains. A rare lead lining within the general’s wooden coffin had kept the bones “almost completely intact,” she said.

The general died in 1841 after 13 years as head of the Army. Arlington National Cemetery was not established until the Civil War. At his reburial, there was no military honor guard because Malcomb received the honor when he was first buried, said Army Spc. Eric C. Summers, who is stationed at Fort Belvoir and volunteered to serve as an unofficial honor guard.

Two National Park Service’s interpretive rangers from Fort McHenry in Baltimore were also on hand, dressed in historical military uniforms and armed with scabbards. Gen. William T. Grisoli, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers’ North Atlantic Division, was also on hand. Macomb was commissioned in the Army Corps in 1802 and for five years built coastal fortifications in the Carolinas and Georgia.

Descendants of Macomb were on hand at every step of the exhumation, examination of remains and the reburial.

His closest living relative, great-great-great-granddaughter Hartley Wensing, placed the remains of her ancestors in their coffin before the reburial. Mrs. Wensing also was present for the excavation of the tomb and the viewing of the remains at the Smithsonian.

“It was amazing to open something so old and recapture that feeling of discovery. Who else gets that close to their long-deceased relatives?” she said.

Macomb was famous for his role in defeating the British army outside of Plattsburg, N.Y. About 15,000 redcoats were headed for Montreal after a Royal Navy detachment, which they were counting on for supplies, was defeated in Lake Champlain.

Macomb buried the road leading to Montreal and laid a false road leading to the middle of a forest, where the disoriented British regulars were beset by 1,500 American troops and forced to withdraw.

“Macomb was extremely clever, and recognized the need for central authority within the military,” said Kevin Wensing, a retired Navy captain and Mrs. Wensing’s husband. Capt. Wensing works for Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England.

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