Memorial Day was established after the Civil War to remember those soldiers on both sides who died in service to their respective ‘countries.’
One of the places that most represents Memorial Day to Betty and me is Arlington National Cemetery.
It’s the home of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Honor Guard and the changing of the guard is something every American should see to appreciate what duty and honor means…
The cemetery includes the remains of over 250,000. Most are military, but there are also presidents and others. The house in the cemetery is the Custis-Lee Mansion, now often called the Arlington House. This home is important to Betty and I’ll explain later.
The 19th-century mansion seems out of place amid the more than 250,000 military grave sites which stretch out around it. Yet, when construction began in 1802, the estate was not intended to be a national cemetery.
The mansion, which was intended as a living memorial to George Washington, was owned and constructed by the first president’s adopted grandson, George Washington Parke Custis , upon an 1,100-acre tract of land which he had inherited. The Greek revival structure took Custis 16 years to complete.
George Washington Parke Custis and his wife, Mary Lee Fitzhugh (whom he had married in 1804) lived there for the rest of their lives and were buried together on the property after their deaths in 1857 and 1853, respectively. They are still buried on the property.
On June 30, 1831, Custis’ only child, Mary Anna, who inherited Arlington House, married her childhood friend and distant cousin, Robert E. Lee.
Robert E. Lee and his wife, Mary Anna, lived there until 1861, when Virginia ratified an alliance with the Confederacy and seceded from the Union. Lee resigned his commission in the Union Army and became a General in the Confederacy.
Following the ratification of secession by Virginia, federal troops crossed the Potomac and, under Brigadier General Irvin McDowell, took up positions around Arlington, Virginia.
General Lee deeply regretted the loss of his home at Arlington. Lee continued to feel responsible for the estate and earnestly hoped that the slaves who were left behind would be educated and freed, according to the provisions of George Washington Parke Custis’ will.
Arlington National Cemetery was established by Brigadier General Montgomery C. Meigs , who commanded the garrison at Arlington House.
Robert E. Lee never ‘owned’ the Custis-Lee Mansion. It belonged to his wife, but he took seriously his responsibility as the steward of the house.
We used to live just outside of Washington, D.C. for a couple of years and at Christmas time the mansion was decorated for the holiday as it might have been when Lee and his wife lived there.
Betty went to help with the decorating because of her connection to the mansion. She’s related to Robert E. Lee.
Have a blessed Memorial Day and as we honor the ‘heroes’ of today, let’s not forget the heroes who gave not only their time, but also gave their lives.