The Last Salute: Civil and Military Funeral, 1921-1969


Former President William Howard Taft
State Funeral
8-11 March 1930

After a long illness William Howard Taft, at the age of seventy-two, died at his home in Washington, D.C., late in the afternoon of 8 March 1930. Mr. Taft, the only man to have held both the office of President and of Chief Justice of the United States, was accorded a State Funeral in Washington with full military honors.

The responsibility for arranging and conducting the funeral was assigned to the Commanding General, 16th Brigade, stationed at Fort Hunt, Virginia. President Herbert Hoover meanwhile appointed his own aide, Col. Campbell B. Hodges, to assist the Taft family and help coordinate funeral arrangements. According to plans the ceremonies, all scheduled for 11 March, were to begin at 0900 when Mr. Taft's body was to be escorted from his residence to the Capitol to lie in state on the Lincoln catafalque in the rotunda until noon. A procession would then form to accompany the body to All Souls' Unitarian Church for the funeral service. President Hoover had offered the East Room of the White House for the service, but Mrs. Taft declined since her husband had asked that it be held in the church of which he was a communicant. Dr. Ulysses G. B. Pierce, pastor of the church and long-time friend of Mr. Taft, was to conduct both the funeral and the graveside service. The members of the Supreme Court were to be honorary pallbearers.

At the request of the family, burial was to be in Arlington National Cemetery. Mr. Taft would be the first President buried there. Following the funeral service, a motor procession without military escort was to accompany the body to the Fort Myer Gate of the cemetery. There a military escort was to meet the motorcade and conduct it to the gravesite, a 2,500-square-foot plot in the northeastern area which held few graves but was well landscaped. Mrs. Taft and her two sons and daughter, accompanied by Colonel Hodges and Col. Charles G. Mortimer, the officer in charge at Arlington, had visited the cemetery on 9 March and selected the site.

Extensive military honors were scheduled after President Hoover on 8 March proclaimed a thirty-day period of national mourning and formally directed the Secretary of War and Secretary of the Navy to render "suitable military and naval


honors" on the day of the funeral. As prescribed in existing regulations, all Army posts possessing the necessary equipment prepared to fire thirteen guns at reveille, one each half hour thereafter until retreat, and then a 48-gun salute to the Union on Monday, 10 March. This was the salute customarily fired upon receipt of news of the death of a President or ex-President except, as in the case of Mr. Taft, when the notice was received on a Sunday.

Also by established custom, and as specifically directed by Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley through Army Chief of Staff General Charles P. Summerall, Army posts were to fire twenty-one minute guns at 1430 on 11 March, the time scheduled for the end of the funeral service. Flags were to be displayed at half­staff, colors and standards were to be draped in mourning, and all officers were to wear "the usual badge of military mourning around the left sleeve of the uniform coat and overcoat and on the saber" for thirty days. Similarly, Navy instructions prescribed that on the day of the funeral "the ensign at each naval station and on board each vessel in commission be displayed at half mast and that a gun be fired at half-hour intervals from sunrise to sunset at each naval station and on board flagships and all saluting ships acting singly." Officers of the Navy and Marine Corps also were to wear mourning badges for thirty days.

Although existing regulations established the military honors to be rendered during the ceremonies in Washington, the size of the military escorts in the funeral of a former President was left to the Secretary of War. A squadron of cavalry (two troops), it was decided, would escort Mr. Taft's body from the Taft home to the Capitol. The main procession from the Capitol to the church was to include two service bands, a battalion of infantry, a battalion of field artillery, a battalion of marines, and a company of bluejackets. The escort commander, another choice left to the Secretary of War, was to be Maj. Gen. Fred W. Sladen, the commanding general of the Third Corps Area, with headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.

At the cemetery, a squadron of cavalry and a mounted band were to escort the motorcade from the gate to the gravesite. A service band, a cavalry regiment, less one squadron, a battalion of engineers, and a company of marines were to stand in formation at the graveside service.

Almost all the ceremonies involved the 3d Cavalry Regiment, the "President's Own," stationed at Fort Myer, Virginia, after World War I and consistently called upon to render funeral honors. Besides furnishing the cavalry contingents of the escorts, the regiment was to supply the caisson and caisson detachment, four of eight body bearers (four from the Army, two from the Navy, two from the Marine Corps), half the guard of honor at the Capitol (twenty from the Army, ten from the Navy, ten from the Marine Corps), and the saluting battery, firing party, and bugler at the cemetery.

The 3d Cavalry alone was to provide the escort from the Taft residence to the Capitol and from the cemetery gate to the grave. In the main procession from the


Photo: Casket is placed on  caisson outside the taft home.

Procession to the Capitol, below.

Photo: Procession to the Capitol


Capitol to All Souls' Unitarian Church, the escort commanded by General Sladen was to include the U.S. Army Band and the 1st Battalion, 16th Field Artillery, from Fort Myer, Virginia; the 3d Battalion, 12th Infantry, from Fort Washington, Maryland; the US Marine Band and a battalion of marines from the Marine Barracks, Washington; and a company of bluejackets from the Naval District Washington, in that order of march. At the grave, the US Navy Band; the 3d Cavalry Regiment, less one squadron; a battalion of the 13th Engineers from Fort Humphreys (later Fort Belvoir), Virginia; and a company of marines were to form a hollow square around the perimeter of the large gravesite as a guard of honor during the graveside service.

In a misty rain, the 2d Squadron, 3d Cavalry, caisson detachment, and body bearers reached the Taft home at 2215 Wyoming Avenue, N.W., shortly before 0900 on 11 March. Facing the residence from the opposite side of the street, the mounted troops formed a front as the body bearers brought the casket from the house and secured it on the caisson.

Neither officials nor members of the family rode in the procession to the Capitol. With Metropolitan Police leading the way and the caisson between Troop E in front and Troop F to the rear, the procession made its way to the Capitol via Connecticut Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue, 16th Street, H Street, Madison Place, East Executive Avenue, Treasury Place, and Pennsylvania Avenue. Rain fell heavily as it moved over the northeast Capitol driveway to the East Plaza.

After the casket was carried into the rotunda and an honor guard, commanded by Capt. Frank Goettge, a White House aide, was posted, an hour and a half remained of the scheduled period of lying in state. Some 7,000 persons in two lines filed by during that time, despite interruptions each fifteen minutes when a new honor guard relief took post.

At noon the casket was taken from the rotunda to the caisson on the East Plaza, where the entire escort had formed for the procession to the church. The Army Band led off, followed by the caisson and the remainder of the escort. As in the morning ceremony, officials and members of the family did not ride with the procession. As the column retraced its morning route as far as 16th Street, then turned north to All Souls' Unitarian Church at Harvard Street, a heavy down­pour of rain with strong winds made it difficult for the escort troops to maintain a precise step and formation. Despite the weather, the public lined the entire route as the procession, marching to the slow tempo of Chopin's "Funeral March," spent almost two hours in reaching the church.

Considerably before the arrival of the cortege and escort from the Capitol, some 900 people had filled All Souls' Unitarian Church. Orderly seating was assured by Army officers acting as ushers under the direction of Charles Lee Cooke, the ceremonial officer of the State Department. Among those in attendance were President and Mrs. Hoover, Vice President Charles Curtis, cabinet members, committees of the Senate and House of Representatives, the Chief justice of the


Photo: Casket is carried up east steps of the capitol.

Body of President Taft lies in state in the rotunda, below.

Photo: Body of President Taft lies in state in the rotunda


United States and associate justices of the Supreme Court (the honorary pall­bearers), state governors, Army and Navy officials, and many members of the diplomatic corps.

Mrs. Taft and her family entered the church shortly before 1400, just ahead of the arrival of the procession. As the cortege reached the canopied entrance to the church a historic bell in the church steeple, made at the Paul Revere Foundry and presented to the church in 1822,tolled the message of Mr. Taft's passing, just as it had tolled the death of every President since 1822.

Doctor Pierce, as Mr. Taft had requested, omitted any eulogies from the funeral service. The half-hour program included a processional, prayers, hymns, and readings from the poems of Wordsworth and Tennyson. Network radio systems broadcast the service over nearly a hundred stations throughout the nation, including some with short-wave transmitters that were monitored regularly in foreign countries.

At the conclusion of the service, Mr. Taft's casket was borne from the church and placed in a hearse for the motor procession to Arlington National Cemetery. The military units of the escort from the Capitol, which had remained information outside the church during the funeral service, stood as a guard of honor while the motorcade formed and departed. The procession, escorted only by motorcycle police, included a hundred cars. The leading car carried Doctor Pierce and the second the honorary pallbearers. The hearse came next, and was followed by cars bearing the Taft family, President Hoover's car, and the cars of high government officials. In some thirty minutes, the motorcade moved south on 16th Street and New Hampshire Avenue, west on Pennsylvania Avenue and M Street to Key Bridge (Memorial Bridge and Memorial Drive were under construction at the time), then to Fort Myer and through it to the cemetery's Fort Myer Gate.

The rain had stopped by the time the motor procession reached the gate. The 3d Cavalry's saluting battery, positioned near the roadway in the cemetery, signaled the arrival by firing the first of twenty-one minute guns. Over the twenty minutes in which this salute was fired, the 3d Cavalry's mounted band, at reduced cadence, and the 1st Squadron, which had formed at the gate, escorted the motor procession to the gravesite.

At the grave the remainder of the 3d Cavalry (dismounted), the Engineer battalion, and the Marine company, all together about a thousand men, already were in the hollow square guard of honor formation. The honor guard presented arms, ruffles and flourishes were sounded, and the Navy Band played a hymn as the casket, followed by the Taft family and dignitaries, was borne to the canopied grave. When Dr. Pierce concluded the brief service, a 3d Cavalry firing party of sixteen men delivered the traditional three volleys. The battery meanwhile had begun the final 21-gun salute. At the end of the salute, taps was sounded for the twenty-seventh President and tenth Chief Justice of the United States.


Photo: Casket is carried from the capitol.

CASKET IS CARRIED FROM THE CAPITOL, above. Procession to All Souls' Unitarian Church, below.

Photo: Procession to All Souls' Unitarian Church


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