Arlington National Cemetery

US #570 from the 1922-25 Flat Plate Printing.

On June 15, 1864, Arlington National Cemetery was officially established.

In the early 1800s, John Parke Custis’ son, George Washington Parke Custis (stepson of President Washington), began constructing a Greek revival mansion on the property as a memorial to the first president.  George’s only surviving child, Mary, met and married Robert E. Lee at Arlington.  The couple spent the next 30 years traveling between US Army outposts and the mansion, where six of the seven Lee children were born.

US #69 – Civil War-era Washington stamp.

Robert E. Lee was offered the command of the Union’s Army of the Potomac at the outbreak of the war.  He refused, citing his loyalty to his home state of Virginia and its neutrality in the war.  When Virginia joined the Confederacy, Lee honored his vow to protect his state and took command of the Confederate forces.

Lee wrote his letter of resignation in the early morning hours of April 20, 1861, in his bedroom on the second floor of Arlington House and left his home two days later.  With Virginia’s secession and Lee’s resignation, Arlington suddenly became a threat to the capital because of its strategic location overlooking the National Mall. 

From his field station, Lee convinced Mary to leave the property.  Mary buried many of the family’s valuables on the grounds and fled in advance of the Union invasion.  On May 24, 1861, Brigadier General Irvin McDowell occupied Arlington and set up headquarters for the Army of the Potomac.  To the Union troops, Arlington House was the home of the rebel commander, and their contempt can be seen in the broken windows and graves that were dug within the yards of the mansion.

US #982 honors George Washington & Robert E. Lee and their roles in shaping Liberty Hall, which was later renamed in both of their honors.

On June 7, 1862, the US Congress passed the Act for the Collection of Taxes in the Insurrectionary Districts.  The Act imposed a property tax on land in rebel states, including Arlington.  Knowing few Confederate sympathizers would come to pay the tax, Congress made payment in person mandatory.  This requirement allowed the Federal government to seize and auction property in Rebel states to raise money for the war effort.

US #149 – Secretary of War Edwin Stanton approved the cemetery’s creation.

A tax of $92.07 was levied against Arlington House.  Suffering severe rheumatoid arthritis and married to the Confederacy’s most prominent officer, Mary Lee sent the payment with her cousin.  The tax collectors refused the payment and seized the entire estate, which was purchased at auction by the US government.  

Since the beginning of the war, soldiers who died in battle near Washington, DC were buried in the US Soldiers’ Cemetery or the Alexandria Cemetery.  These cemeteries were filling up rapidly, so in 1862, Congress passed legislation permitting the government to purchase land for national cemeteries.  The Arlington property was among those examined and concluded to be the most suitable for its size, location, and aesthetics. 

US #701 from the 1931 Rotary Press Printing.

The first military burial at Arlington occurred on May 13, 1864.  However, it wasn’t until June 15 of that year that 200 acres of the property were officially set aside as a National Cemetery.  A portion of the property was also made into a settlement for freed slaves that became known as “Freedman’s Village.”

A decade later, the Lee family sued the United States for ownership of the property.  In 1882, the Supreme Court ruled in the Lee family’s favor, deciding that Arlington had been confiscated without due process.  The property was returned to the Lee family, who then sold it back to the government for $150,000. 

Item #20097 – Tomb of the Unknown Soldier commemorative cover.

While the cemetery originally occupied about 200 acres, it was later expanded to 624 acres and today is the final resting place for about 400,000 military servicemen and women.  Among the additions to the property are the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  The amphitheater often hosts Veterans and Memorial Day services. 

Click here to view Arlington National Cemetery’s official website.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

Did you like this article? Click here to rate:
5/5 - (13 votes)
Share this Article

12 Comments

  1. I hope Arlington Cemetery keeps to the long standing standards it has in place for to be buried there. No ego maniacs please.

    1. If “no egomaniacs” should be allowed burial there; I assume, therefore, that you would never allow a MacArthur or Patton to be buried there – in spite of their outstanding military service?

      (Of course, I know what you mean. But, if someone can be denied burial because of their politics; then I doubt that JFK would be buried there – in spite of the circumstances of his death and the outpouring of National grief following his assassination – because there were just as many Americans who disliked his politics and there were who idolized him. Politics should NOT be a criteria for who is eligible to be buried there.)

      1. Of course Kennedy was a war hero. He could have used his family connections and his back injury to avoid the war. But he sacrificed and volunteered. He is deserving of his place in Arlington.

  2. I hope Arlington Cemetery keeps to the long standing standards it has in place for to be buried there.

  3. Arlington Cemetery is a GREAT U.S. Memorial for the brave American citizens who lost their lives defending our free and open Society against countries on out planet under the control of a dictator, worthless monarchy crap, communism, or some other despicable .and worthless domination across our planet, EVEN today !! Thanks, Mystic, for the detail in this important history essay !!

  4. What a great article. It is a rich history that not many know about. Thank you Mystic for your great lesson.

  5. When Lee decided to resign his commission in the U.S Army, he had the decency to hand it in person to Gen. Winfield Scott, head of the Army. Scott was said to have commented to Lee, that you are making the greatest mistake of your life. History as borne Scott right…Lee was on the wrong side of history.

  6. Lee gave up everything for what he thought was the honorable thing to do, not what was best for him. He must have know he would be on the wrong side of history but loved his state more than money

  7. I had to search for these articles.
    I have not received any articles for the past three days.
    Please, start sending me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *