The Civil War Connections Blog

A Final Resting Place

So, as I may have mentioned in my first blog post, I am a self-proclaimed history nerd. Luckily, I was born and raised right outside of Washington D.C., and therefore have access to one of the most historically rich areas in the United States. While I haven’t been into the city since the summer, I’d have to say I find Arlington Cemetery one of the most interesting and somber places to visit.

 

Arlington House was originally owned by George Washington Parke Custis, the grandson of George Washington. Custis’ father, John Parke Custis, was the son of Martha Washington from her first marriage, and technically not a blood relative of George Washington. However, his son George Washington Parke Custis constructed the mansion on the property as a memorial to his adopted grandfather in the early 1800’s. In 1831, Custis’ daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, married Robert E. Lee. In an ironic twist, the great-granddaughter of our first President, and most notable founding father, married the man who would lead the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia against the Union. Lee and his wife lived at Arlington House from 1857 until 1861, when Virginia seceded from the Union. Prior to Virginia’s secession, President Lincoln had asked Lee to command the Union troops, but Lee declined, turned in his resignation from the U.S. Army and joined the Confederate Army instead. It is said that Lee felt as though he could not fight against his fellow Virginians in the war.[1]

 

East Side of Arlington House, 1864. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

East Side of Arlington House, 1864. Accessed through the Library of Congress online. (According to the Library of Congress notes, those are Union soldiers on the stairs and in front of the house.)

 

In 1864, Arlington House was seized by the federal government under the premise of unpaid property taxes. Brigadier General Montgomery C. Meigs, commander of the garrison at Arlington House, designated the land as a military cemetery to help provide burial space for the dead soldiers at the hospitals in Washington D.C. It is also thought that the presence of Union soldiers being buried on Lee’s property would serve as a way to insult him and discourage him from returning. While Lee himself never returned to the property, his eldest son, George Washington Custis Lee sued what is now Arlington County for the property, claiming that the land had been taken illegally. In late 1882 the property was returned to the family, yet Custis Lee almost immediately sold it to Congress. [2]

 

Arlington House Overlooking the Graves of JFK and Jackie O. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

Arlington House Overlooking the Graves of JFK and Jackie O. Accessed through the Library of Congress online.

 

Today Arlington Cemetery is the final resting place for veterans and notable American figures. Two U.S. Presidents, William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy are buried there, along with their wives, Helen Herron Taft and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.  Robert Todd Lincoln, the eldest son of President Lincoln, is buried there as well.[3] However, there is also a small Confederate section within the cemetery as well. Less than 500 Confederate soldiers are buried there, and a monument designed by Moses Ezekiel, a Confederate veteran, marks the section.

 

Veterans from the Revolutionary War have been interred to Arlington, and Section 60 is home to those killed in combat in the Global War on Terrorism, laying those killed in the colonies’ fight for freedom next to those who have died in the most recent conflict next to each other.  Fittingly, the family home of two monumental men in American history is now a national landmark for honor, patriotism and remembrance.

 


[1] “History of Arlington House,” The Official Website of Arlington National Cemetery, Accessed January 22, 2013. http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/History/Facts/ArlingtonHouse.aspx

[2] “Civil War: 150 Years – How Arlington Cemetery Came to Be,” Smithsonian Magazine Online, Accessed January 24, 2013. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/The-Battle-of-Arlington.html

[3] “History of Arlington House.”