Monday, May 23, 2011

Arlington: The House and the Cemetery

Went on a day trip to Arlington House and Arlington National Cemetery  recently.  It was torrentially down pouring when we left the cemetery visitors center and headed to Arlington House.  Arrived there a little damp but  no worse for ware.  The house sits on a high bluff on the Virginia side of the Potomac River overlooking Washington DC.

 The view of the capital is spell binding even in a rain storm.

Arlington House has a storied history.  The house (or at least most of it) was built by George Washington Park Custis, the grandson of Martha Dandridge Custis Washington.  Upon G. W. P. Custis's death in 1857 the house was inherited by his only surviving child Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee, the wife of Robert E. Lee.  Six of the seven Lee children were born there and while R. E. Lee was often gone from the estate while serving in the US Army between 1829 and April 1861 Arlington was the house he and his family called home.

On April  20, 1861 when Virginia's secession from the Union was imminent career army officer Lee paced the floor of one of the upstairs bedrooms for hours and finally descended the stairs to the main floor of the house with his resignation letter from the US Army in hand.  He left Arlington House two days later for Richmond, never to return and after a few trials with lesser appointments was placed in charge of the Army of Northern Virginia on June 1, 1862.

Union troops occupied Arlington House and the Arlington estate on May 24, 1861.  The US government bought the house and grounds for back taxes during the civil war.  Following the war George Washington Custis Lee, filed suit against the government.  He won his case in the Supreme Court and the federal government paid him $150,000 for the property.

 In May 1864 when Washington City was flooded with dead and wounded Union soldiers as a result of Lt. General U. S. Grant's Overland Campaign, Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs started burying the dead soldiers on the grounds of Arlington House.  By the end of the Civil War in April 1865 about 16,000 Union soldiers had been buried in what later would become Arlington National Cemetery.

 Now the National Cemetery at Arlington is home to the graves of 320,000 American heroes.  

            Grave of Brigadier General John Gibbon

        Grave of Civil War veteran and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

The Tomb of the Unknowns is also at Arlintgton. This time of year the guard is changed every one-half hour. It is a touching  and solemn ceremony.

                                       Tomb of the Unknowns

                       Changing of the Guard, Tomb of the Unknowns

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