This nation's most hallowed burial ground for its war dead is Virginia's Arlington National Cemetery at Arlington Heights, a beautiful area high above the Potomac River across from Washington D.C. and not far from the Lincoln Memorial. Its centerpiece, Arlington House, was the beloved home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his family.
Arlington was built in the early 1800s by Martha Washington's natural grandson and the stepson of George Washington, George Washington Parke Custis, who originally dedicated the home to the honor of Washington's memory. He kept many mementoes there from his own boyhood home, Mount Vernon. Custis was Robert E. Lee's father-in-law.
During the Civil War it was fortified for the protection of the capital and then used as a refugee camp for freed slaves. In 1864, with Washington D.C. overwhelmed by wounded and war dead, it became the site for a new national cemetery, partly as a spiteful move by a bureaucrat named Meigs to prevent Lee from ever occupying it again as a home.
Two Arlington postcards from the early 1900s
from the collection of Michael Robert Patterson
That gravesites should be used to keep Arlington from being used as a residence again is somewhat ironic in that, during the war, Abraham Lincoln spent his summers north of the city in a cottage at the Soldier's Home—which was then an active hospital and sanitorium with a graveyard continually in use for the interment of war dead.
It is another gently spectacular spot in the countryside, with beautiful views. Lincoln would commute to the White House between June and November on horseback. Soldier's Home, which Lincoln is known to have loved, is now one of the few places that still exists largely as Lincoln knew it in his lifetime. President Lincoln's Cottage at the Soldier's Home opened to the public in 2008 as a restored national museum.
Jack Boucher, Lincoln's Cottage at Soldier's Home
Robert Lee never did return to Arlington. Down the hillside from Arlington House is the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier), where citizens touring Washington gather to watch the changing of the honor guard, and at the foot of what we would call the front yard of the house is where the eternal flame burns for John F. Kennedy, himself a war veteran.
(From the Archives—originally published on Memorial Day 2007)
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Mike Lipske: "Montgomery Miegs was no mere bureaucrat. Quartermaster General of the Union Army during the Civil War, he was also a civil engineer and the designer of the post-war Pension Building (now the National Building Museum) in Washington, D.C. Miegs also built the Cabin John Bridge in Maryland. At the time of its construction, the bridge was the longest single-span masonry arch in the world."