Washington DC – Arlington National Military Cemetery

CROSSING the aqueduct bridge on to the soil of Virginia, a drive of a mile southerly will bring one to the National Military Cemetery at Arlington— a vast field of the Nation’s dead. Here, under the shade of noble oaks, are buried 16,264 soldiers of the Rebellion, their last resting-place graciously cared for by the government they died in defence of. The cemetery coyers two hundred acres on Arlington Heights, which rise two hundred feet above the Potomac River, and command a fine prospect. It has an eastern frontage of 3,500 feet on the Alexandria turnpike, and extends westward for nearly one-half mile. A handsome rubble-stone wall encloses the grounds, and near the southern end of the front is the main entrance, over the gateway of which is a large arch formed of marble pillars from the portico of the old War Department Building. The larger portion of the burials are made in the southwest section of the cemetery, which is very nearly a level plateau covered with groves of ancient trees. The graves are arranged in long parallel rows, and each grave of the 11,915 soldiers who were known, bears a small, white marble head-stone inscribed with the name, company, regiment, and date of death. The graves of the 4,349 unknown soldiers who lie here are suitably inscribed. These burial-fields have a calm, mournful beauty ; there is no sound save the song of birds and the wind sighing through the lofty trees, and one can imagine the long lines of white head-stones to be a vast, silent encampment— an encampment indeed, waiting the final order of the Great Commander.

The main avenue passes by the side of an extensive garden, and between the avenue and the garden are forty-five graves of Union officers. To the west of the garden is a large vault containing the remains of 2,211 unknown Union soldiers gathered after the war from various battle-fields. Over the vault is a massive granite sarcophagus surrounded by four field-pieces on their carriages, with piles of cannon-balls between them. Here and there on the borders of the burial-fields iron frames are placed, each one bearing a poetic inscription in large letters.

The entire Arlington estate consists of 1,160 acres. It was originally part of the vast landed possessions of Edmund Scarburgh, who was surveyor-general of Virginia in the early colonial period. Later it came into the possession of John Custis, a wealthy planter, whose only son, Daniel Parke Custis, married ” the beauty and belle of Williamsburg,” Martha Dandridge, and inherited the estate. Martha Dandridge Custis, after a few years of happy married life, was left a widow with two children, and in 1759 was wedded to George Washington, then a colonel in the Virginia militia. The widow Custis ” was fair to behold, of fascinating manners, and splendidly endowed with worldly benefits.” She held the Arlington property for her son, and eventually her grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, be-came the owner of it. He erected the fine mansion now standing on the eastern portion of the grounds, and lived in it until his death, in 1857. Arlington passed to his daughter, Mrs. Lee, the wife of Gen. Robert E. Lee, for life, and afterward was to descend to her son, George Washington Custis Lee. The Lee family liyed on the estate until the beginning of the Rebellion, leaving it forever in April, 1861, when General Lee remoyed to Richmond.

The United States took possession of the estate soon after the war began, and under the direct tax act of 1862 a tax was assessed against it. As the tax was not paid, a sale was ordered, and President Lincoln directed that the estate should be bid in for the use of the government, which was accordingly done. It was decided to take part of the land for a military cemetery, and the first interments were made in May, 1864. Arlington was subsequently claimed by George Washington Custis Lee, on the ground that the tax sale was defective, as a tender of the tax might have been made but for a rule of the tax commissioners which required that the tender should be made in person. He brought a suit of ejectment against the United States officers in charge of the estate, and judgment was given in his favor. A writ of error was taken to the Supreme Court of the United States, which court affirmed his judgment. He then offered the estate to the government for the sum of $150,000, which offer was accepted by Congress, and Arlington is now in undisputed possession of the Nation.

Arlington House consists of a large centre building with two wings, the whole having a frontage of one hundred and forty feet. It is constructed of brick covered with stucco, resembling freestone. There is a central portico, the pediment of which is supported by eight ponderous columns. The house is occupied by the superintendent of the cemetery, and the lower story can be inspected by visitors.