Preserving A Place Of Honor
Although it was raining on Arlington cemetery, last Monday, nothing could dampen the spirits of the volunteers who came out to clean up the cemetery. The Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) hosted the event for the 16th year in a row. The approximately 450 volunteers came out to celebrate Renewal and Remembrance Day at Arlington Cemetery for many different reasons.
Some were inspired by relatives who served in a war, others liked the community atmosphere. The children planted milkweed plants to attract monarch butterflies, while the adults sprinkled fertilizer and lime and planted trees.
Shelby Wanzor, 10 and Abby Bradley, 11 won an essay contest that gave them the honor of placing a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns during the ceremony. Shelby wrote her essay in honor of several relatives who served in a war. Abby says she was inspired to write the essay and help with the cleanup by her grandfather who was a World War II Marine veteran. The hard work put forth by the volunteers was not in vain. By the end of the day, the grounds of this cemetery looked beautiful and looked fit to be the final resting place of over 400,000 national heroes.
But was this piece of land always a burial ground? Read on to find out...
The History of Arlington Cemetery
The story of Arlington starts many years before it became a cemetery. The property was owned by General Robert E. Lee and his wife, Mary Custis Lee who had a huge estate called “Arlington House.” Mary Lee inherited the property from her father, George Washington Parke Custis who was the grandson of Martha Washington. During the civil war, General Lee left his huge estate in the North, to fight for the South. This angered many former friends, including Brig. Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs, the quartermaster general for the North.
Conflict Over the Arlington Estate...
As the Civil War heated up in June 1862, Congress passed a law that gave commissioners the right to collect taxes on estates in “insurrectionary districts.” This included the Arlington Estate. Another part of the law required the estate owners to present the money in person.
Mary Lee was stuck in Richmond at the time because of her failing health and the war. She asked her cousin to pay the taxes, but when he arrived he wasn’t allowed to. Because Mary Lee couldn’t present the money herself, the 1,100 acre estate was put up for auction in 1864. Meanwhile, the war produced about 82,000 casualties in a single month. The hospitals were overflowing with the dead and wounded.
Montgomery Meig began looking for a new graveyard in which to bury the overflow of bodies. Ironically, his first choice was his old friend’s estate: Arlington. We don’t know for certain if his choice was out of spite but given the anger he showed towards Lee it is safe to assume this to be so. The first body was laid to rest at Arlington Cemetery on May 13, 1864.
Nearly 150 years and 399,999 burials later, Arlington is just as significant as it was before the Civil War. It is a place to remember and honor the soldiers who have given their lives to preserve American liberty. It is and will always be a place of great importance to Americans.