Hoosier Army Mom’s Weblog

Conservative Views

Arlington Cemetery – the story behind the story.

This is my Memorial Day post.  It has to do with the “original pain” that is behind Arlington National Cemetery.  It starts with  the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, Mary Anne Randolph Custis Lee, her father being Washington Custis, the adopted son of George Washington.  The estate of Arlington was left to Mary Custis Lee’s father and passed on to her and her husband, Robert E. Lee.   It was her beloved ancestral home.  The outbreak of the American Civil War created the necessity for her to leave Arlington House, as her husband had chose, as men on both sides had to choose, to fight for Virginia.  Prior to the civil war, people were prone to swear alligence and loyalty to their home states, so this was not an isolated event.  This is how Arlington House probably looked (without grave stones and tour buses of course) when Mrs. Lee was forced to leave and locate herself and her children in Richmond, VA.


Enter Quartermaster/Brigadier General Montgomery Meigs.  You can read about this honorable soldier’s stellar career here. Now the Army Quartermaster history page states in it’s bio how the cemetery came into being as:

General Meigs recommended that property in Arlington, Virginia owned by Mary Custis Lee, the wife of Robert E. Lee, be used as a military burial ground. Based on this recommendation, Arlington National Cemetery was created in 1864.  In October of that same year, his son, First Lieutenant John Rodgers Meigs was killed at Swift Run Gap in Virginia. He is buried at Arlington Cemetery.

Now the story, behind the story is the fact the General Meigs so deeplly resented Robert E. Lee’s decision to resign his commission as an officer in the U.S. Army to join the Confederate cause, upon Mrs. Lee’s departure, the embers in the fireplace of Arlington House were still hot when he moved to make the house a headquarters for Union officers. General Meigs blamed Lee’s refusal to stick with service to the Union for prolonging the war, so when his beloved son was killed at Swift Run Gap, he ordered that his body be laid to rest in “Mrs. Lee’s Rose Garden”. It is the very human part of interaction during challenging times. Meig’s personal pain is forever enshrined at Arlington.

At the close of the American Civil War, Mrs. Lee not only lost her beloved ancestral home and left to bear the injustice of it (it was one of many unconstitutional actions taken by Lincoln and the Union).   Also, her health had deteriorated and her beloved husband returned a broken man in spirit and in health as well.  The war had taken a toll and the sacrifice had shortened lives and destroyed fortunes.   Robert E. Lee eventually was offered the presidency of the struggling Washington College (now Washington and Lee University)  in Lexington, VA. During his few years before his death, he brought it back to a viable institution of higher learning, and his son took up the mantle after his death in 1871.   Mrs. Lee passed away two years later, still holding bitterness over the loss of her home and birthright.  Her losses and grief being felt for the last few years of her life.

Knowing this story behind the honored resting place of so many of our fallen warriors, is to understand the grief and pain that those who lose their loved ones in any war,  must endure.  From it’s beginning, Arlington has been about pride in our nation and those who serve, but also about personal loss, suffering and grief.  One of the most moving photos I’ve seen from Arlington is the photo of Mary McHugh who lost her fiance, Sgt. James J. Regan in Iraq.  Mary has joined league with the honored loved ones who, as Lincoln so eloquently described, “laid down such a precious sacrifice on the alter of freedom”.   In my mind Arlington Cemetery has become the symbol of the honored sacrifices made by Americans for hundreds of years, and so we must honor them and never forget what it means.  God bless America and all our warriors who swear the oath to defend it at all costs.



May 25, 2009 - Posted by | Commentaries, Our Military | , ,


  1. John, 15:13 … “Greater love hath no man than this; that he lay down his life for a friend.” No battle is ever fought without accompanying pain and misery. Some argue that the fortunate lay dead upon our fields of honor, for it is those who survive who carry those memories to the grave; it is those who deeply loved the slain who suffer all of their remaining days. It is fitting, therefore, that we pause to consider the parents, wives, children, and siblings of our honored dead. The burden of their loss is a heavy one.

    I suspect that General Meigs was typical of the men of those days; the northern states held their grudge for well over 100 years; they went out of their way to “punish the south” for their secession. Today, people forget that the individual who first set the idea into motion was Thomas Jefferson. They forget, or never learned, that the average confederate soldier was dirt poor, never owned slaves, but fought because they looked upon their state as their homeland. Honor demanded no less of them. There is a lesson in this for those of us today, if we but pause to consider it.

    But to the victor go the spoils; General Lee knew this. He understood, when Lincoln offered him command of the Union Army, the south could not win … but he knew once Virginia voted to secede, he must fight for Virginia. Honor … right or wrong, win, or lose … he had to follow his destiny. During the war, Lee suffered three heart attacks … and yet, he could not withdraw from his responsibilities. There is a lesson for us in that, as well.

    This is an excellent post, HAM. May God bless you and yours on this Memorial Day.

    Semper Fidelis,

    Comment by Mustang | May 25, 2009

  2. Thank you Mustang, I am honored by your comment and compliment. So many don’t understand the complexity of the human side of history and the lessons to be learned. The fact is when the ability to reason and compromise breaks down, everyone loses.

    Your comment explains much about the cost of honor, thank you my friend.

    Comment by hoosierarmymom | May 25, 2009

  3. Of course, General Meigs never admitted the fact that, if the North wasn’t involved in an immoral and unconstitutional invasion of the southern states, his son would not have been killed at all. He should have blamed the real culprit: Abraham Lincoln.

    Comment by Stogie | May 25, 2009

  4. Oh yes Stogie… Lincoln raised an army to invade other States, which there is much debate since it is Constitutional to do so, but morally questionable as to whether that right was meant to attack fellow countrymen, and of course suspending habeus corpus… but I think those of us who have looked closely at history, know that Lincoln waa a master at manipulation. There are still those who think it was a war to end slavery, which it was not until Lincoln had need of the notion. Initially it was about challenging the rights of individual states to self-determine, pure and simple.

    Comment by hoosierarmymom | May 25, 2009

  5. Great post Hoosier. The picture of the young lady is one of the most mournful ones I’ve seen. The simple display of grief really highlights the price these people pay.

    Comment by Chuck | May 26, 2009

  6. Your comment honors me and I thank you Chuck.

    The time I was active with the PGR gave me a chance to not only honor the fallen, but to know the sacrifice the families and and loved ones bear for the rest of their lives. As far as I’m concerned we can never do enough for them.

    Comment by hoosierarmymom | May 26, 2009

  7. Bonjour Hoosierarmymom ,this picture is so touching …I travel blogs Americans also your friends, with tears in their eyes as I am moved by your articles ! Dieu protège l’Amérique.

    Comment by kate | May 26, 2009

  8. Quand je suis allé aux Pays Bas en 2002, mon plus grand regret n’allait pas en Normandie rendre hommage aux âmes courageuses qui ont donné tellement dans WWII. Merci Kate de vous commentaire merveilleux, et peut Dieu nous protéger tous en années à venir.


    When I went to the Netherlands in 2002, my greatest regret was not going to Normandy to pay homage to the brave souls who gave so much in WWII. Thank you Kate for you wonderful comment, and may God protect us all in the coming years.

    Comment by hoosierarmymom | May 26, 2009

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