Historical Association of Tobyhanna Township

HATT | PO Box 2084 | Pocono Pines, PA 18350-2084

Rich Pawling plays "Taps" beside the grave of William Henry Christman of Tobyhanna Township, the first soldier buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Pawling, a Civil War reenactor from Sinking Spring, Pa., was part of the “Taps 150” celebration at the cemetery on May 19, 2012.
More than 200 buglers distributed themselves throughout the cemetery, paying tribute on the 150th anniversary of its writing.

Pocono Lake soldier honored at Arlington Cemetery

Published Mary 16, 2017, Pocono Record
By Chris Reber
Pocono Record Writer

Six months ago, Jim Christman was watching a documentary about Arlington National Cemetery when a photo appeared of the first soldier buried there in 1864 — William Henry Christman.

“I said to my wife, ‘Hey, there's a Christman in Arlington National Cemetery. Who knew?”

At that point, the police officer from Lehigh County had no idea that he was the great-grandnephew of the soldier — who was felled by measles before he ever saw combat.

On Tuesday, local residents, veterans and media from across the country watched as Jim Christman placed a wreath on the grave of his long-lost relative at a ceremony commemorating the 150th anniversary of Arlington, and William Henry Christman's burial.

"We never knew," he said. "Our family had no inkling that we had a relative named William who served in the Civil War, let alone that he was the first soldier buried in Arlington."

Driving force

About 50 area residents — veterans, members of the Historical Association of Tobyhanna Township and Christman family members — traveled to Washington for the occasion.

To kick off a five-week commemoration of the anniversary, members of the 3rd Regiment "Old Guard" — best known for guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier — held a silent ceremony and placed their own wreath on the grave.

Then, the locals stayed for their own ceremony, where Christman placed a wreath.

Christman said the day would not have been possible without the Historical Association of Tobyhanna Township and its president, Rick Bodenschatz.

The author of a just-released book on William Henry Christman, Bodenschatz has been the driving force in recognizing the local roots of this famous soldier.

"That guy is amazing — all of the work he put in to research everything on William," Jim Christman said. "Tobyhanna is lucky to have him."

Signing bonus

Bodenschatz has retraced Christman's life, who was born in Lehigh County.

In 1862, while the family lived in Pocono Lake, Christman became the second in his family to enlist — his brother Barnabus was killed in battle in 1862.

Christman was set to be drafted anyway, so he enlisted so he could give the $300 signing bonus to his family, which was "dirt poor," Bodenschatz said.

About a month into his service, Christman fell ill with the measles and died.

But Bodenschatz is of the opinion that he deserves the same treatment as any combat veteran.

“When you join, whether or not you're ordered into combat or you suffer the ultimate because of something else, I don't care,” Bodenschatz said. “You signed on the line to give your life to your country.”


Bodenschatz’s book also explains how the family used William's bonus to buy a farm in the Pocono Lake area. The farmhouse they built still stands.

“In essence, it's the house that William Christman built,” he said. “That basically took the family out of poverty.”

He said the fact that Christman was the first soldier buried at Arlington probably wasn't a big deal to the family at the time.

The cemetery didn't become famous until the end of the 19th century.

But now the Christmans will pass along the story.

Jim Christman only regretted that his father, Harry, and uncle, Elwood, who served during World War II, could have learned about William Christman.

“I really wish my father was alive to see this, his brother, too," Christman said. “But maybe they were here.”