In the spring of 1864, together the civil War gotten in its third year, the Union military began an attack designed to ultimately crush the Confederate Army. As fighting intensified, Washington hospitals—in many cases, converted churches, public halls, or governmental buildings—were flooded through wounded soldiers, lugged up the potomac from battlefields in Virginia and elsewhere.

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Describing the hospitals, Washington journalist Noah Brooks wrote: “Maimed and also wounded…. Come by hundreds as long as the waves of sorrow come streaming back from the areas of slaughter…. They came groping, hobbling, and faltering, for this reason faint and so longing for rest that one’s heart bled in ~ the piteous sight.”<2> As numerous of these guys died, cemeteries in the city and also surrounding locations filled come capacity.

To relax the no hope situation, the military started burying soldiers along the north border of the Arlington estate, around one half mile native the mansion-headquarters, in might of 1864.<3> Meanwhile, Quartermaster general Montgomery Meigs set about the job of identify an proper place for a new, official cemetery. Meigs walk not have to look an extremely far.

As the army had occupied Arlington since 1861 and also the U.S. Government had legally purchased the residential or commercial property at windy auction in January 1864, it arised as a logical choice. The fact that the floor had additionally been the plantation home of Robert E. Lee probably made it even more attractive to Meigs, that formally suggest Arlington as the website of the new cemetery in a letter to Secretary of war Stanton ~ above June 15, 1864. The very same day, Stanton authorized Meigs’ recommendation and instructed that part of the Arlington Estate, “not exceeding 2 hundred acres” be surveyed and also laid out for the national cemetery.<4>

The Republican push hailed the choice of Arlington. Top top June 17, the national Republican reported:

The ‘powers the be’ have been induced to ideal two hundreds acres, immediately roughly the residence of basic Lee, on Arlington Heights, for the funeral of soldiers dice in the military hospitals that this city. The grounds are undulating, handsomely adorned, and also in an extremely respect admirably fitted because that the sacred purpose to i beg your pardon they have been dedicated. The human being of the entire nation will one day, not really far distant, heartily say thanks to the initiators that this movement…. This and the contraband establishment there space righteous offers of the estate of the rebel general Lee, and will never ever dishonor the spot do venerable through the occupation that Washington.<5>

Meigs most likely appreciated the prediction the Americans would someday “heartily say thanks to the initiators that this movement.” He viewed the development of the cemetery as a way for restoring honor to the property, which the felt Lee had dishonored by resigning from the U.S. Army and also leading the Confederate forces.

However, the Quartermaster general was not encouraged that the cemetery was necessarily permanent, fearing the the finish of the battle might enable the Lees come resume regulate over Arlington and potentially eliminate the tombs on the property. In hopes of staying clear of such from occurring, Meigs wanted to place graves as close to the mansion as possible. Law so, he felt, would make the house uninhabitable. In his initial proposal to Secretary Stanton, Meigs specified:

I have visited and inspected the grounds currently used together a Cemetery ~ above the Arlington Estate. Ns recommend the interments in this ground be discontinued and also that the land bordering the Arlington Mansion, now understood to it is in the residential property of the unified States, be appropriated as a nationwide Cemetery, to be properly enclosed, laid out, and carefully maintained for the purpose, and also that the bodies newly interred by eliminated to the national Cemetery for this reason to it is in established. The grounds about the Mansion space admirably adjusted for together a use.<6>

Though Meigs’ early proposal come Stanton and also subsequent orders to police officers at Arlington plainly spelled the end the Quartermaster General’s intentions, the cemetery go not construct quite as he envisioned. At first, most of the burials to be made some distance native the mansion. Together Meigs tape-recorded later, countless of the officers quartered in the mansion were uncomfortable v the idea of living in the middle of a graveyard, "It to be my intention come have started the interments nearer the mansion, yet opposition on the component of police officers stationed at Arlington, some of whom supplied the mansion and also who did not favor to have actually the dead hidden near them, resulted in the interments to be started in the northeast corner of the grounds close to Arlington road. On discovering this on a visit i gave specific instructions to make the burials near the mansion. They to be then driven off through the same influence to the western section of the grounds."<7>

Col. J.M. Moore come Maj. Gen. D.H. Rucker. December 11, 1865

Meigs continued to push the problem and, after significant effort, lastly got his wish. In respectable 1864, 26 body were buried along the perimeter the Mrs. Lee’s climbed garden within a couple of yards the the mansion.<8> But, as evidenced by a December 1865 letter from among Meigs’ assistants, the ar of brand-new graves stayed a very important issue to the cemetery’s creator for some time come come together he sought to additional solidify the cemetery’s root at Arlington.

This letter, command to major General D.H. Rucker, the cook Quartermaster the Washington read, in part: “The Quartermaster General….some time ago, to express his regret, that the interments have actually not to be made in close proximity to the Arlington House…. As to an ext firmly certain the grounds recognized as the nationwide Cemetery, to the government by rendering it undesirable together a future residence or homestead. Over there being an ext than a thousands interments yet to it is in made, the see of the Quartermaster general can currently be carried out.”

To underscore the urgency and importance the burying the dead close to the house, the Assistant Quartermaster closeup of the door his letter by relaying the complying with story: “A brother of Genl. Lee (Smith Lee) in a recent visit to Arlington, remarked to the Superintendent, ‘that the house might still it is in made a pleasant residence, by fencing off the Cemetery, and also removing the policemans buried about the garden.’”<9>

Smith Lee’s appraisal obviously alert the Assistant Quartermaster and undoubtedly also Meigs himself. Both practically and symbolically, the opportunity of Robert E. Lee and also his family members returning to the mansion on the hilltop at Arlington which literally looked under upon the funding city of the United says did not sit well v those in charge of developing the cemetery. To further ensure that this did no happen, Meigs notified the building of a dig for unknown Civil battle dead in the climbed garden in April 1866. The stays of 2,111 unknown soldiers, recovered indigenous battlefields in the vicinity of Washington, to be sealed in the vault.<10> castle joined part 15,000 various other Civil war casualties who had currently been to adjust to remainder at Arlington.

As the turned out, the Lees would never ever return to live in ~ Arlington again. Whether influenced by Meigs’ initiatives to make the mansion uninhabitable or not, Robert E. Lee and his wife determined not to pursue regaining the title to the mansion after the War.<11> Instead, the former Confederate General and also his family cleared up in Lexington, Virginia whereby he invested the last five years that his life together the president of small Washington College. When the family members was later on compensated because that the estate, the Lees would never again reside ~ above the property.<12> Meigs gained his wish and the Cemetery became a permanent feature at Arlington.


<1> Herbert Mitgang, ed. Washington, D.C. In Lincoln’s Time: A Memoir that the Civil battle Era by the Newspaperman who Knew Lincoln finest by boy name Brooks (Athens, GA: university of Georgia Press, 1989), 16-17.

<3> The dig of william Christman, a personal from the 67th Pennsylvania is the oldest military grave in ~ Arlington. Christman was laid to remainder on may 13, 1864.

<4> Letter, Sec. Edwin M. Stanton to Quartermaster Gen. Montgomery Meigs, June 15, 1864. Copy in Arlington home archives. Initial at national Archives, records of the battle Department, Office that the Quartermaster General, national Cemeterial Files.

<6> Letter, Quartermaster Gen. Montgomery Meigs come Sec. Edwin M. Stanton, June 15, 1864. Copy in Arlington residence archives. Initial at nationwide Archives, records of the war Department, Office the the Quartermaster General, nationwide Cemeterial Files.

<7> Memorandum, Quartermaster Gen. Montgomery Meigs, April 12, 1873. Nationwide Archives, RG 92: documents of the Office that the Quartermaster General, records relating to functions: Cemeterial, 1829-1929. Basic correspondence and also reports relating to national and post cemeteries (“Cemetery file”), 1865-c. 1914. Antietam, MD-Arlington, VA, crate 6, NM-81, entrance 576.

<8> James Edward Peters, Arlington nationwide Cemetery: Shrine come America’s Heroes, 2nd ed. (Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House, 2000), 23.

<9> Letter, Col. J.M. Moore to Maj. Gen. D.H. Rucker, Dec. 11, 1865. Nationwide Archives, RG 92: documents of the Office of the Quartermaster General, records relating come functions: cemeterial, 1829-1929. General correspondence and also reports relating to national and also post cemeteries (“Cemetery file”), 1865-c. 1914. Arlington, VA, box 7, NM-81, entry 576.

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<11> Peters, 28. According to Peters, the Lees’ decision no to go after the title of the property was probably an ext influenced through Lee’s id that to carry out so would certainly heighten sectional hostilities and also hamper the restoration process, rather than concerns around the tombs on the property.

<12> after Robert E. Lee and also his wife died in the beforehand 1870s, their earliest son, Custis Lee, brought suit versus the U.S. Federal government in effort to reclaim title to the estate. In 1882, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in Custis Lee’s favor. He to be compensated $150,000 in exchange because that the property, in order to ending any kind of legal claim the Lees had on Arlington.