Arlington National Cemetery is one of the most sacred parts of our country. It is no accident that this cemetery is named Arlington. Just as it is no accident that Arlington House, which was the home of Gen. Robert E. Lee and his family, stands so close to the graves of those who, regardless of race, have given their lives in service to this country.
A number of the individuals whose lives have created the history of this country were not as right or wrong as we might think. Any one of a number of qualified historians in this metropolitan area could have come forward to provide a more complete picture of Robert E. Lee. I was raised in the northern part of this country, and therefore have found it easier to fault those who fought for the Confederate cause and what it stood for. However, I was taught to give credit where credit is due, regardless of my feelings or a difference of opinion with anyone. Therefore, I am obliged to provide the following brief overview to give a more complete and accurate picture of Robert E. Lee. If anyone wishes to verify this information, check the Arlington National Cemetery website, which contains information on Arlington House provided by the National Park Service and others.
Arlington was Lee’s home. He cared for it and managed it, but he didn’t own it. Arlington was no ordinary piece of property. Lee’s wife, Mary, had inherited it from her father, who was a grandson of Martha Washington (the wife of President George Washington). In 1864, Arlington was seized for use as a cemetery for the Union army. The property was seized on the pretext that Mary Lee hadn’t appeared in person to pay her taxes.
The government turned away her agent, refusing to accept the payment. As you read this, imagine how you would feel if the ground around your home was taken from you and used as a cemetery for those against whom you had fought. Wouldn’t that be unjust?
Gen. Lee knew the Civil War was over before anyone, and he chose to let it be over. He did not wave the Confederate flag in the face of anyone. He chose to live the remainder of his life without contesting the wrong that had been done to his family.
The websites that I have cited tell what Lee wanted for Arlington’s slaves. Robert E. Lee died on Oct. 12, 1870. His oldest son, George Washington Custis Lee, as heir took the matter to court. In December of 1882, the Supreme Court returned the property to George Lee, stating that it had been confiscated without due process. In March of 1883, Congress purchased the property from Lee. In this way, the Custis Lee family made it possible for our citizens to be recognized as equal when they give the ultimate sacrifice for this country.
Monuments and street names in this city will come and go. Those who do not learn from history will repeat it. In the haste to right a perceived wrong, will the contribution of the Custis Lee family and the name of Arlington and what it stands for be ignored?
retired financial analyst