In the year 1861, while President Abraham Lincoln was in office, shots were fired at Union troops at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Lincoln requested the help of 75,000 troops to protect the nation’s capital. At this time of the rebellion, the state of Virginia was assumed to be contributing to the revolt, however, had made no decision whether or not to secede. In 1861, General Irvin McDowell commanded his federal troops to surround Arlington House and became a headquarters for the Union Army.
The construction of this property originally started in 1802 and took sixteen years to finally complete due to a financial dilemma caused by Custis being in a great amount of debt at the time of his death. The Arlington House was originally owned by George Washington and remained in his possession until he later on passed. The reason behind this estate being created was to serve as a living memorial to the first president of The United States.
The house held the largest collection of Washington’s keepsakes such as portraits, clothing, papers and a command tent. In 1778 the estate was the purchased and passed onto by John Parke Custis after the Revolutionary War. John Parke Custis later passed in 1781 while serving as Washington’s aide during the siege of Yorktown. The property was then given to George Washington Parke Custis, son of John Parke Custis, who had been adopted by George and Martha Washington after John Parke Custis’ death in 1781. Later on in 1831, Robert E.
Lee was made executor of the Arlington estate as written in George Washington Parke Custis’ will. This was his home for about thirty years. Lee was made superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1852 and was then transferred to Texas to command the Second United States Calvary. Upon finding out about Custis’ death, Lee took leave in order to return to Arlington and help out with the up keeping of Arlington House. Mary Anna Custis lee, daughter of Washington Custis, was given the power to control Arlington House.
On June 7, 1862, Congress passed “An Act for the Collection of Direct Taxes in the Insurrectionary Districts of the United States”, which levied the taxes against the Arlington estate When Lee’s wife refused to pay the taxes, the tax commissioner purchased the land for “government use” including “war, military, charitable, and educational purposes”. The idea of a national cemetery did not come about until June of 1864 when the secretary of war, Edwin M. Stanton, appointed the estate of Robert E. Lee’s wife as a military burial site.
Thirteen years later in April of 1877, after the government had taken control of the property, Robert E. Lee proposed the eviction of the government on the title of the estate in the circuit court of Alexandria. Five years later, the court system ruled in favor of Mr. Lee, stating the United States had denied Mary Lee her property without due process so in turn the property was given back to the Lee family. In 1863, Lieutenant Cornell Elias Greene, Chief Quartermaster of the department of Washington and Danforth P. Nickels of the American missionary association chose the site for Freedman’s Village to be on the Arlington estate.
They had hoped this would become a model community for slaves that had been declared free persons. Arlington estate provided assistance to thousands of African Americans fleeing enslavement in the South. Land was granted to more than one hundred freed slaves who in return farmed. , and lived until the twentieth century. In 1864, military service members were buried in Alexandria, Virginia. However, as the war went on, space for the burials was becoming limited to none. General Montgomery Meigs suggested the use of Arlington House for the continuation of burials and in June of 1864, he proposed his idea.
May 13, 1864, Private William Christman was the first soldier to be buried in what is now known as Arlington National Cemetery. Christman’s grave is located in section 27 which is also where the casualties from the Civil War joined him. Arlington National Cemetery is now owned by the United States Army and was officially named and made into Arlington cemetery twenty-two years after the Union troops first occupied the estate. Home to more than250,000 military grave sites of men and women who served in the United States military, Arlington provides a picturesque view of Washington D. C.
The first section of Arlington National Cemetery was finished in 1802 and was called the north wing. The north wing was where Washington’s collectibles were stored and was also made home to George Washington Custis which contained only six rooms at the time. Two years later in 1804, the south wing was established and gave Custis two more rooms in addition to the current six in his home. The south wing rooms were used as an office for Custis. In 1818, the large section in the center of ustis’ home was finished. In April of 1866, Meigs ordered sealed proposals for the creation of a stone burial vault.
In this vault, 2,111 unknown soldiers were placed and buried. This vault is known as the Tomb of the Unknown Dead from the Civil War. On November 11, 1921, a soldier of World War I was put to rest. This unknown soldier was joined by servicemen who were also unknown, from World War Il as well as the Korean Conflict. In May of 1998, the unknown American from the Vietnam War was revealed from the Tomb in attempt to identify himself/ herself. After careful identification, the soldier was identified as First Lieutenant Michael J. Blassie. He was then returned to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
The tomb displays no names however there is a saying on the marble that reads, “HONORING AND KEEPING FAITH WITH AMERICA’S MISSING SERVICEMEN, 1958-1975”. At this time the Tomb of the unknown was only being watched over by a civilian. In the year 1937, this civilian was replaced by a military guard that would stand watch for twenty-four hours. The Third United States Infantry, also referred to as the Old Guard, took on the job of guarding the Tomb in 1948. The Tomb is located in section 26 of the cemetery and to this day is still being guarded every second.