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OCTOBER 21, 2013

Arlington National Cemetery
click on pictures to enlarge

Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington County, Virginia is a United States military cemetery beneath whose 624 acres have been laid casualties and deceased veterans of the nation's conflicts beginning with the American Civil War as well as reinterred dead from earlier wars. As of 2012, over 440,000 have been interred of which 367 are Medal of Honor recipients. Of these 367, nine are Canadians.

photograph by FredW
... photograph by FredW

George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Washington, acquired the land that is now Arlington National Cemetery in 1802 and began construction of Arlington House. The 1100 acre estate passed to Cutis's daughter, Mary Anna, who had married US Army officer Robert E. Lee. Custis' will gave a "life inheritance" to Mary Anna Lee, allowing her to live and run Arlington Estate for the rest of her life but not enabling her to sell any portion of it. Upon her death the Arlington Estate was to be passed to her eldest son George Washington Custis Lee.

When Virginia seceded from the Union at the start of the American Civil War, Robert E Lee resigned his commission on April 20, 1861, and took command of the armed forces of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Mary Lee believed her estate would soon be overrun with federal troops, so upon her husband's urging she buried many of her family treasures on the grounds and left for her sister's estate in Fairfax County, Virginia. Like many others on both sides she believed that the conflict would end quickly.

On May 23, 1861, the voters of Virginia approved an ordinance of secession by a ratio of more than six to one. Within hours, Union forces crossed the Potomac and the undefended estate changed hands without a whimper.

The Union forces established a tidy village of tents, stoked fires for breakfast and scuttled over the mansion's broad portico with telegrams from the War Office. The surrounding hills were soon lumpy with breastworks, and massive oaks were felled to clear a line of fire for artillery.

photograph by FredW
... photograph by FredW

The attack never materialized, but the war's impact was seen, felt and heard at Arlington a thousand ways. Union forces denuded the estate's forest and absconded with souvenirs from the mansion. They built cabins and set up a cavalry remount station by the river. The Army also took charge of the newly freed slaves who flocked to Washington after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. When the government was unable to accommodate the former slaves in the capitol, where thousands fell sick and died, General Montgomery C. Meigs ordered that they be settled on the Arlington estate, "on the lands recently abandoned by rebel leaders." A sprawling Freedman's Village of 1500 sprang to life, complete with new frame houses, schools, churches and farmlands, on which former slaves grew food for the Union's war effort. This village existed until 1888 and over 3500 former slaves are buried at Arlington.

In 1862 the government levied a property tax on the estate in the amount of $92.07, which in today's monies would be about $1500. Mrs. Lee did not appear in person but sent an agent to pay the tax bill. The government turned away her agent, refusing to accept the tendered payment. In 1864 the government purchased Arlington at a tax sale for $26,000, equal to 390,000 today.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, most military personnel who died in battle near Washington, D.C., were buried at the United States Soldiers' Cemetery in Washington, D.C., but by late 1863 it was nearly full. On July 16, 1862, Congress authorized the U.S. federal government to purchase land for national cemeteries for military dead and put the U.S. Army Quartermaster General in charge of the program. General Montgomery C. Meigs ordered that an examination of eligible sites be made for the establishment for a large new national military cemetery. Within weeks, his staff reported that Arlington Estate was the most suitable property in the area. The property was high and free from floods, it had a view of the District of Columbia, and it was aesthetically pleasing. It was also the home of the leader of the armed forces of the Confederate States of America, and denying Robert E. Lee use of his home after the war was a valuable political consideration. On June 14, 1864, 200 acres of the Arlington Estate was transferred to the U.S. Quartermaster for use as a military cemetery.

In 1874, George Washington Custis Lee, heir under his grandfather's will passing the estate in trust to his mother, sued the United States claiming ownership of Arlington. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1883 in Lee's favor, deciding that Arlington had been confiscated without due process, Congress returned the estate to him. The next year, 1884, Custis Lee sold the property back to the government for $150,000, equal to $3,500,000 today at a signing ceremony with Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln.

photograph by FredW
... photograph by FredW

Arlington National Cemetery is sectioned into 70 individual sections some of which are dedicated to specific groups. Some of these groups to name a few are:

Revolutionary Soldiers, Confederate Soldiers, Spanish American War Soldiers, Doctors, Nurses, Chaplain's, Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, Exploration and Space, and War on Terror since 2001.

Several Memorial Monuments are spread throughout the 624 acres of Arlington National Cemetery such as Memorials to; Personnel killed on the USS Maine, Space Shuttle Challenger, Space Shuttle Columbia, 184 victims of 911 attack on the Pentagon, 270 passengers and crew of Pan Am flight 103, the Cross of Sacrifice dedicated to U.S. citizens who lost their lives in the Canadian Forces of WWI, Women in military Service for America and many more.

Some of the famous people buried in Arlington National Cemetery are:

Audie Murphy, Joe Louis, Robert Todd Lincoln, Edward Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, President John Kennedy and his wife and two of his children, President William Howard Taft, General John J. Pershing, Medgar Evers, Robert E Perry, Admiral William D Leahy, General George C. Marshall, General Henry (Hap) F. Arnold, Admiral William (Bull) Halsey, General Omar N. Bradley, General Phillip Sheridan, and 12 Supreme Court Justices.

photograph by FredW
... photograph by FredW

The original 1100 acres of the Arlington Estate are under the jurisdiction of several agencies such as the Department of the Army (Ft Meyers). Department of the Navy (Navy Annex), National Parks Authority (Arlington House), Corp of Engineers and others. All of these entities make it difficult to expand the cemetery so requirements for burial have become more selective than earlier times. The cemetery currently conducts an average of 27-30 burials per day (M-F), 6900 per Year. Flags are flown at half-staff from a half hour before the first funeral until half hour after the last funeral. The National Cemetery is open to the public 7 days a week from April-September 8AM-7PM and from October-March 8AM-5PM.

Report presented by Mr.Magoo