Friday, January 21, 2011

Robert E. Lee's Arlington House

Did you know that Arlington National Cemetery was originally Civil War General Robert E. Lee's home and plantation? Arlington House which sits on the hill overlooking the cemetery and the Potomac River was originally the Curtis-Lee House, home to Lee and his family prior to the Civil War. The home was constructed and owned by George Washington Parke Curtis, the adopted grandson of President George Washington. Lee married into the Curtis family and thus, this plantation became his home and the birthplace of his seven children.

When Lee -- a respected career Army officer and West Point graduate -- turned down President Abraham Lincoln's offer to lead the Union Army in the Civil War and chose to lead the Confederate Northern Virginia Army instead, many of his old Army colleagues who were Unionists were enraged. One of those enemies, Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, established Arlington National Cemetery on Lee's property in 1864 after the government bought it in a tax sale and began burying Union dead near Arlington House. By turning the property into a Union cemetery, Meigs desired to make the estate uninhabitable for the Lees even if they reclaimed their property from the federal government after the war. Eventually, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1882 returned ownership of the estate back to the Lee family since it was seized without due process. However by this point, the family chose to sell it back to the government, keeping it a military cemetery. Now, Arlington House and the Curtis-Lee ancestral plantation is the home of more than 250,000 military grave sites.

The creation of Arlington National Cemetery on his estate was the final insult to the talented Army strategist and leader, who died five years after the Civil War's end. Today, his estate brings such peace and solace to the many who journey here to honor those interred here. While created in disrespect to Lee, Arlington National Cemetery is now a place of respect and honor for those who rest there. I have a feeling that General Lee would now appreciate the irony.

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