A Union Cemetery in Robert E. Lee’s Backyard

Confederate military commander, Robert E. Lee owned an estate in Virginia called with his family. It was known as the Arlington Estate. After Virginia seceded from the Union, they fled their home in fear of their surrounding area becoming a battle ground.  In a letter to his wife, Lee said “War is inevitable, and there is no telling when it may burst around you…..” (National Park Service). Of course, he was not happy to leave his beloved home. However, it was what needed to be done, for not too long after they left, military bases popped up all around their estate (National Park Service).

While Lee and his wife were away from the estate, the property taxes were not paid. Thus, in 1864, the property was confiscated by the government and put up for public sale. It was then bought for government, military, and educational use. Soon after, General Montgomery C. Meigs took over the land and used it for a military cemetery, mainly for union officers (National Park Service).

So it is quite ironic; a union cemetery built right on the grounds of Robert E. Lee’s old house! “His [Meigs] intention was to render the house uninhabitable should the Lee family ever choose to return.” (National Park Service). If they did decide to buy back the property, they would have a cemetery filled with people that could have potentially died at the hands of Robert E. Lee himself.

In 1877, the Lees’ eldest son tried to get Arlington back. He sued the government for illegally confiscating the property (Gaffney). They gave it back to him but he realized he couldn’t do much with the property, seeing as it was now a cemetery. So, he sold it back to the government and it is now known as the Arlington National Cemetery.

In my opinion, it was quite a gutsy move of Meigs to do something like that. However, it was quite an interesting one as well. Especially the fact that northerners were buried there, and in turn, buried in a state that was no longer part of the union. To this date, over 250,000 soldiers are buried in Arlington National Cemetery (Gaffney).


National Park Service, . N.p.. Web. 17 Dec 2013. <http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/History/Facts/ArlingtonHouse.asp&xgt;.

Dennis Gaffney, . N.p.. Web. 18 Dec 2013. <http://www.history.com/news/10-surprising-civil-war-facts&gt;.

Photo 1: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Arlington_National_Cemetery.JPG

One thought on “A Union Cemetery in Robert E. Lee’s Backyard

  1. Ah, first of all I would like to start by saying that this post was wonderful and I found it to be very engaging. I find it so interesting and insanely ironic that a confederate generals own home was turned into a cemetery for the fallen union soldiers. It’s kind of like the people he was fighting against, and the people that he could have potentially killed came back to haunt him. Almost as if the ghosts of history were trying to tell him something, perhaps they were reprimanding him for become a confederate general… Anyway, I always find stories like this very intriguing because we are always learning about the bigger picture and the more “important” aspects of history, that we never have time to delve deeper into the details. Well done.

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