Anyone who has taken a tourist trip to Washington D.C. has likely spent at least some time visiting Arlington National Cemetery. Arlington stands as a symbol of the commitment and sacrifice thousands of Americans have made for their country. It’s well known by most that Arlington National Cemetery is used to bury those who have served our country, but what is less known is how the cemetery got its start. Intrigued? Read on …
The story of Arlington starts with Gen. Robert E. Lee and his wife, Mary Custis Lee As we all know, Lee was one of the most successful generals of the Confederate States of America and in many ways has become the face of the C.S.A. However, prior to his stint as Confederate army guru, he dedicated over 30 years to the United States Army. In fact, he was so dedicated to fighting for the U.S., that when Lincoln needed someone to command over 75,000 Union troops at the start of the Civil War, he asked Lee. As we know from the history books, Lee turned the offer down, resigned from the United States Army and pledged his loyalty to his home state of Virginia and the C.S.A.
Needless to say, this did not sit well with many of Lee’s former army buds.
As a way to punish the disloyal Lee, Union Brigadier General Montgomery C. Meigs proposed burying fallen Union soldiers at Arlington House (the ancestral home of Lee’s wife and the place where the two lived before the war). Meigs’ goal was to ensure that Lee could never again return home … and he succeeded. Starting in 1864, Union soldiers were buried in the front lawn of Arlington House.
After the war, Lee accepted an offer to become president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) and lived in Lexington, Virginia until his death in 1870. Lee never lived in Arlington House again.