June 15, 2020
Sitting high atop a hill, it was no secret Arlington's location could be detrimental to Washington D.C. if it fell into the hands of the enemy. Understanding this, Robert wrote to Mary and encouraged her to leave the home and join him. With a house full of valuable heirlooms and historical treasures, Mary got to work. Burying some pieces on the estate, she packed up other items to take with her, such as her step great-grandfather's papers as well as her husband's. She collected all she could and departed, leaving the rest in the hands of Selina Grey and her other slaves with the hopes of returning soon. It was a wish that would not come true.
In 1778, John Parke Custis purchased 1,100 acres of land in Virginia along the Potomac River. Naming his property "Mount Washington" in honor of his step-father, General George Washington, its high elevation provided an excellent view of the surrounding area. While serving as a civilian aide-de-camp to Washington in Yorktown, John contracted dysentery and died on November 5, 1781. (see ) His young widow asked her in-laws to raise their two youngest children, which Washington adopted.
George Washington Parke Custis was only 6 months old when his father died and he moved to Mount Vernon. When he became of age in 1802, he inherited all his father's property, including "Mount Washington." Renaming it "Arlington" after the Custis family homestead, he started building his home on his newly acquired land while living in an existing house already standing on the property. In the style of a Greek Revival structure, Custis' new home was constructed as a living memorial for George Washington with a view of the growing national capital. Called "Arlington House," the home took 16 years to complete, including a hiatus during the War of 1812 and after as supply shortages plagued the area following the British burning the capital in 1814. (see ) Once complete, Custis decorated the home with items belonging to the Washingtons. While Custis entertained multiple important people, one of the most notable was Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, during his 1824 return visit. The French commander was like a son to Washington and contributed greatly to the success of the American Revolution. (see & )
Custis married Mary Lee Fitzhugh in 1804 and fathered four children, yet only one daughter, Mary Anna, reached adulthood. On June 30, 1831, Mary married West Point graduate, Lieutenant Robert E. Lee, in the family parlor. Lee was not only a distant cousin of Mary, he was also the son of Major-General Henry 'Light-Horse Harry' Lee III, who served under Washington during the Revolutionary War. Holding several political positions, including Governor of Virginia, Lee III provided the eulogy for President Washington on December 18, 1799, stating Washington was, "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."
As the Lee's traveled frequently due to his military career, their home base was "Arlington House," which they shared with Mary's parents. When Custis died in 1857, his will granted Mary the right to live out her days on the land, yet she was not allowed to sell the property. Instead, it would go to her eldest son, George Washington Custis Lee, upon her death.
In order to provide much needed maintenance, attention, and repairs to the Arlington House and grounds, Lee took a 3-year leave from the U.S. Army. During this time, the slavery debate reached a boiling point due to the 1857 Dred Scott decision, the rise of the anti-slavery Republican Party, and the election of the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln. (see , and ) As states started seceding immediately following the election, Virginia stayed with the United States. However, after Lincoln's call for 75,000 more troops as a result of the Battle of Fort Sumter, Virginia began the process of leaving the Union. (see )
Because of Lee's distinguished military career to date, Lincoln offered him the command of the Union Army. Not only did Lee decline the appointment, he penned his full resignation of the United States Army at Arlington House on April 20 before traveling to Richmond to offer his services to his home state's government. Mary followed him a month later on May 15.
Virginia voted on May 23, to join the Confederacy and by 2 o'clock the next morning, the Union Army was crossing the Potomac River into Virginia. The forces quickly and peacefully secured Arlington Estate for the Union by the end of the day.
Before long, the house became a headquarters for General Irvin McDowell, while two forts, military camps, and other wartime business occupied the land. As more and more soldiers came to the house, Selina noticed family artifacts disappearing, including those of President and Mrs. Washington. Quickly bringing it to the attention of McDowell, the attic and basement were immediately secured as valuables were collected and sent to the Patent Office in Washington D.C. for their protection, saving priceless historical memorabilia.
Per Custis' will, Lee was directed to release his slaves within 5 years of his death, a requirement Lee failed to meet. However, he did manumit them in December of 1862, likely due to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all slaves in the Confederate states on January 1, 1863. (see ) In addition to military uses, Arlington Estate became the home for newly freed slaves. Dedicated on December 4, 1863, soldiers built new frame homes, a hospital, schools, two churches, and a home for the elderly in Freedman's Village as the new residents farmed the land, providing food for the Union war effort.
As the war waged on, the anger between the sides grew along with the national debt. Therefore, Congress targeted areas involved in the "insurrection," establishing a property tax in June 1862 for land in these places. Amendments followed in 1863 requiring the tax be paid in person. Mary's health prevented her from making the trip back to Arlington herself, but she sent her cousin in her stead to paid the tax. However, the payment was rejected. With the war lasting longer than most anticipated, others chose to just willingly abandon their land altogether.
Placing the estate under tax default, it was auctioned off on January 11, 1864. As the freezing weather kept buyers away, the Federal government presented the only and winning bid of $26,800 (approximately $425,000 today), declaring the land would be "for Government use, for war, military, charitable and educational purposes."
As the bodies from the bloody conflict filled cemeteries in Washington D.C., a new location to respectfully bury the dead was sought. On May 13, 1864, Private William Christman was laid to rest in the Northeast section of the land, followed by many more soldiers. Lee's abandonment of the Union Army infuriated many of his once close army buddies, including Brigadier General Montgomery C. Meigs. Formerly serving under Lee, Meigs was stationed at Arlington House and wanted to make sure Lee understood what his actions did and that he would never return to the estate. As more soldiers were buried on the land, he had an idea.
In a letter to United States Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton on June 15, 1864, Meigs argued, "I recommend that...the land surrounding the Arlington Mansion, now understood to be the property of the United States, be appropriated as a National Military Cemetery, to be properly enclosed, laid out and carefully preserved for that purpose." Designating 200 acres for the new graveyard, he proposed moving Christman and the others closer to Lee's home, stating, "The grounds about the Mansion are admirably adapted to such a use." Meigs' goal was to make the land around the house so populated with the casualties of the horrific war that Lee would never think of returning to the estate. Stanton approved Meigs' proposal that same day, establishing the Arlington National Cemetery.
Upon Lee's surrender at the Appomattox Court House, in Virginia, on April 9, 1865, General Ulysses S. Grant declared, “The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again.” (see ) Lincoln echoed those sentiments in his address regarding the end for the war, stating, “Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical relations between these states and the Union.” (see ) His call for unity, as well as equal rights for blacks, cost him his life two days later. (see )
While the country tried to put itself back together, Meigs believed Lee deserved consequences for abandoning the country. Remaining on at Arlington as quartermaster general, Meigs oversaw the development of the cemetery. Still concerned Lee might try to reclaim his estate and demand the interment of those buried there, Meigs sent crews to battlefields around Washington to gather unknown dead. They collected 2,111 soldiers of both the Union and Confederate Armies from the First and Second Battles of Bull Run as well as those buried along the Rappahannock River. A large masonry vault was constructed at the end of Mary Lee's garden, which was used as a tomb for the unknown soldiers. A monument to the fallen Americans was placed atop the vault and dedicated in September of 1866.
Following the war, many of the freed slaves remained in Freedman's Village. As parents raised their families and new residents joined, the community eventually grew to 1,500 people. It existed until 1900, upon which time the land was incorporated into the cemetery. However, the Arlington House remains, becoming the Robert E. Lee Memorial in 1955.
Shortly before her death, Mary returned to Arlington Estate but could not bear to go into the house. She tried to appeal to Congress for the return of her family home, but failed to find a sympathetic ear. After her death, her son and heir of the estate took matters to court, suing the federal government in April of 1874. The case made it through the court system finding its way to the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS). In a 5-4 ruling on December 4, 1882, they sided with Lee, determining the estate was illegally confiscated. They declared the property, which was now the resting place of 20,000 individuals, should be returned or Lee should receive proper compensation for the land. Lee chose the latter, receiving $150,000 for the property, or close to $4 million today.
Lee signed the title over, officially making the estate the property of the federal government, on March 31, 1883. The papers were received by Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, placing it under the U.S. Army, who still manages it today. The event signified a closing chapter as the sons of two men who were fierce adversaries during an extremely difficult period in America's history, followed both their father's calls for unity once the guns went silent.
Liberty, a few weeks ago the nation watched the video of an officer kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed suspect, George Floyd, for almost 9 minutes. For a very brief moment, Americans were unified, all agreeing the officer's actions were extremely inappropriate as he was rightfully fired and arrested. But as people understandably took to the streets in peaceful protests, the organized resistance groups Antifa, started to defeat Nazi Germany and bring about full-fledge communism, and the radical Black Lives Matter highjacked the cause. (see , and ) Instigating riots, which caused massive fire and looting damage, they used age-old terrorist tactics to ignite a Marxist revolution while hiding behind the guise of protesting racism. (see )
As they starting doing during other riots the past 12 years, rioters are destroying and tearing down historical monuments, like statues of General Lee and other Confederate figures. If given the chance, they would also burn down Arlington House. Those voices honestly looking to peacefully encourage change and unity like Martin Luther King Jr. are being drowned out by those who want to eradicate America's history, not to improve race relations, but to put everyone under a communist regime. (see ) To achieve this they need a bloody revolution, like Malcolm X originally fought for, and are egging on a second Civil War to get it. They're willing to shed the blood they crave by any means necessary, including purposely provoking a race war. (see )
Arlington National Cemetery and the Arlington House remind us of the lives that were lost as Americans fought each other over slavery. (see and ) Marxists must erase history not only to rewrite it, but so people WILL repeat it. They need us fighting each other again and filling many more cemeteries. At the end of the day, Lincoln, and even Meigs, realized all who died in the fight were not Northerners or Southerners, but Americans. Today, we are not separated by a Mason-Dixon Line, but blue vs. red states, urban vs. rural areas, going as deep as neighbor vs. neighbor and even turning family members against each other.
As we watch our country being purposely torn apart and burned down, we can find the answer to surviving this insurrection from the president who brought us through the first Civil War. When things looked their bleakest, Lincoln turned in the only direction he could: Up. Stating "I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go," Lincoln refocused his efforts realizing, "My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right." Therefore, he invited the country to join him in "A Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer." God heard the country, turning the tides for the Union and leading them to victory. (see and )
The Lord is driving His people to their knees once more. May we as a nation find humility and may God hear our prayers again and heal this nation. A Christian nation is the ultimate monument for this world and one we must pray for as Satan is working overtime to rip it down and shatter it into pieces.
That’s my 2 cents.
OF A CEMETERY