How Robert E. Lee’s Home Became Arlington National Cemetery

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(HISTORY) The nation’s most prominent military burial ground—Arlington National Cemetery, which officially opened on June 15, 1864—began with the seizure of a prominent Army officer’s hilltop home after he defected to the Confederacy during the Civil War.

General Robert E. Lee, a native Virginian who reportedly spent the night nervously pacing upstairs in his home, Arlington Estate, as he deliberated whether to lead the Union Army or fight for his home state’s Confederacy, resigned from the U.S. Army on April 20, 1861. He left for Richmond, Virginia, the next day, and told his wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee, the great-granddaughter of original First Lady Martha Washington, to vacate their house. With the high hilltop position overlooking Washington, D.C., Lee knew the Union forces were likely to seize the property, which was in a mostly rural area at the time.

“It wasn’t uncommon for Army headquarters to be placed in residences,” says George W. Dodge, author of…

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