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Full text of "Historic Arlington. A history of the National Cemetery from its establishment to the present time, with sketches of the historic personages who occupied the estate previous to its seizure by the national government--Parke Custis and his times--the career of Lee, with descriptions of life in Virginia during the early part of the century"

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Published by the Decker and McSween Publishing Company, 
Washington, D. C. 

Entered according to act of Congress, in the year 1892, by 

Earl Decker and Angus McSwben, 

in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington. 

Gibson Brothers, 

printers and bookbinders. 

washington d. c. 

A^ 3 


In presenting this work to the public the authors feel that not- 
withstanding the labor and care exercised in its preparation the 
subject is one which is capable of still greater development. A 
complete history of the famous old place would be a history of 
the development of American political institutions and customs, 
the history of modes and fashions now long extinct, and the intel- 
lectual, moral, and industrial changes that have taken place in the 
land from the time the colonists first severed with their swords 
the knot that bound them to Great Britain, and set up a people's 
government under the protecting folds of the stars and stripes. 
For with all this is Arlington closely associated. 

In the present volume the authors have endeavored to show the 
historic importance of the place, and in doing so present for the 
first time an authentic account of Parke Custis and the state of 
society during his lifetime, together with such portions of the his- 
tory of General Lee as are connected with the estate. The occu- 
pation of Arlington by the Federal troops, its seizure b_y the 
United States, the legal proceedings by which the Government 
perfected its title, the establishment of the national cemetery and 
its growth to the present time, are all described in the work with 
a completeness of detail such as the subject demands. 

The fact that so little was known, or could be learned, by the 
general public concerning Arlington caused the authors to under- 
take the publication of this volume, and they feel assured that its 
value to every student of American history, as well as to the many 
whose comrades and relatives lie beneath the Arlington sod, will 
be recognized and appreciated. In preparing the work the au- 
thors obtained their information from the records of the War De- 


partment, the personal recollections of men now living who were 
connected with some of the different phases of Arlington history, 
and from the collection of historic documents in the possession of 
Dr. Joseph M. Toner. They have spared neither effort nor 
expense to secure information and can present the work feeling 
confident of its accuracy in every detail. The authors have 
been materially assisted in their work by Quartermaster-General 
Batchelder, U. S. A.; Dr. Toner, Supt. Commerford, of the national 
cemetery, and others. 



Chapter I ........... 7 


Chapter II . . . . . . . . . . .14 

The founding of Arlington and early life of Custis. 

Chapter III ........... 28 

Custis' life at Arlington — His associates and customs — The Wash- 
ington relics. 

Chapter IV . . . . . . . . . . . 44 

Lee at Arlington — Genealogy and early career — His service in the 
Mexican War. 

Chapter V ........... 60 

Seizure and occupation of Arlington by Federal forces — First inter- 

Chapter VI ........... 68 

Establishment of the National Cemetery — Bodies of soldiers col- 
lected on the battle-fields and buried at Arlington. 

Chapter Vn .78 

The Government's title to Arlington and how obtained — Interesting 
legal documents. 

Chapter VIII 86 

The National Cemetery— A general description of Arlington, with 
an account of some of the distinguished soldiers buried there. 

Chapter IX .98 

Decoration Day and its customs — Some noted orations — Lincoln's 
Gettysburg address — lugersoU's prose-poem over the soldier dead. 



Arlington. The nation's monument to its immortal dead. 

How imposing in its sublimity; how inspiring in its associa- 
tions. Here, after life's fitful fever, rest thousands of those whose 
blood was shed that the Union might live. 

Historic memories cluster thickly round the name, and it is 
hallowed by the sacrifices of a nation's homes. 

There was scarcely a household but felt the impress of the iron 
hand of War, and now that Peace has spread her mantle o'er the 
land, healing the battle scars and bringing reconciliation to the 
sections, there is scarcely a home in which the thoughts of some 
within do not turn lovingly to the spot where fathers, brothers, 
husbands, or sweethearts of the days gone by repose in peace- 
ful slumber. In many a household the empty chair by the fire- 
side still brings tears and heartaches to gray-haired mothers and 
widowed wives, and to such the intelligence that once again the 
patriotic men and women of the nation's capital have strewn with 
flowers the graves of the soldier dead at Arlington comes with a 
softening touch, easing the reawakened pain and causing hearts 
to swell with grateful impulse. Still does the grandfather tell 
the orphan boy how his soldier father served his country well, 
and then the story, oft repeated, ends in one sad phrase, " he lies 
at Arlington." 

Thus from each section of the land, still sorrowed by the inter- 
necine strife, a nation in its sadness turns towards Arlington, and 
in thought pronounces a benediction o'er the graves. No worthier 
sepulchre for those who fell in battle could be found. No better 
monument could be erected to their eternal fame. 

This beautiful necropolis of the nation's heroes lies embowered 
amid the majestic oaks that crown the Virginia hills sweeping 
away to the south and west of the National Capital. From the 
portico of the old mansion a panorama is unfolded that is worthy 
a pilgrimage from the antipodes. To the, north, rising back from 


the river in terraced hills, lies Georgetown, the ancient and 
honored burg whose wharves once gave welcome to shipping from 
far distant foreign ports, and whose stately colonial society, 
tinged with a courtliness bred of constant contact with the English 
shores, included the oldest and most famous names in our 
country's history. Here rise the sturdy granite towers of the 
Georgetown University, bearing proudly the crown of a hundred 
years of useful existence. 

Extending away to the east, in the alluvial basin of the Poto- 
mac, lies the National Capital, its imposing structures of marble 
and granite gleaming in the broad glare of sunlight. To the 
south, across the sterile, barren plains, rise the spires of Alex- 
andria, while nearer battle-scarred earthworks, silent relics of 
the great cordon of Union armies that lay around Washington, 
rear their now peaceful fronts, covered with sod and growths of 
brush. Every foot of ground for miles around was part of the 
scene of the great drama of civil war. 

The national cemetery lies on the ancient Georgetown and 
Alexandria pike that a century ago formed a means of communi- 
cation between these then thriving towns. The land sweeps back 
in graceful ascent, forming wide, sloping lawns leading up to the 
graceful structure that crowns the topmost height. 

Here every year come thousands to pay their quota of the 
nation's debt to the dead. Men, women, and children in an end- 
less procession pass through the portals of the national cemetery 
and, stealing from the bustling world in which they move, spend 
moments of silent reverence among the dead. No one enters who 
does not realize more fully than before the heroism of those whose 
monuments they view, and few there are whose patriotic impulses 
are not quickened and their sentiments ennobled by a contempla- 
tion of the scene presented. 

The long rows of white headstones and the imposing shafts of 
marble and granite that stretch away in picturesque order on 
every hand bring recollections of a scene far different, and before 
the mind passes in review memories of battles fought, where glo- 
rious deeds but led to death ; where, for the cause they loved, 
these men gave up their lives. And as these recollections of the 
past transform the sleeping dead once more into the living heroes, 
the marble slabs and the inscriptions that they bear change also, 


and from the sterile name and date that mark each stone ap- 
pears the record of the soldier's glorj. 

But not alone does Arlington bring up memories of the 
war. For fancy, wandering back to days before the civil strife, 
beholds scenes of homely gayety about the mansion ; sees throngs 
of men distinguished in their time pass and repass between the 
columns of the spacious portico, and conjures up a picture of a 
genial host exercising the truest spirit of hospitality in the days 
when Virginia was noted alike for the treatment accorded the. 
stranger and the ability of her men. 

Not a stone or a tree on the old estate but is associated with 
recollections of the noblest period of the nation's history. We see 
the lofty example and precepts of Washington finding later expres- 
sion in his foster-son, George Washington Parke Custis. About 
Oustis we see assembled at Arlington a band of guests composed 
of men distinguished in the history of the country. We see the 
progress of the nation reflected in the personnel of those who 
wander beneath the forest groves of the old estate. 

Lafayette gives place to men like Webster and Henry Clay, and 
they are in turn succeeded by Lee and those who gathered about 
that gallant officer before the secession of States brought war be- 
tween the sections. 

The sorrow of a nation, when the death of Custis, the last sur- 
viving member of the Mount Vernon household takes place, is 
shown at Arlington in the assemblage that gathers about his grave, 
and nowhere does the gloom and sorrow which preceded the civil 
war settle with stronger eff'ect than at Arlington. We see Lee, 
flushed with success as a soldier of the Union, struggling between 
love for his native State and his duty to the Government he had 
served so well. We see the termination of his career at Arlington 
in the letter of resignation which he forwards to his old com- 
mander. We see the despairing departure from the scenes he 
loved so well, and find the home that had been bright through 
generations deserted and buried in gloom. 

The sceng changes, and we see the forests of the estate leveled, 
and from every hillside spring white tents peopled by men in war- 
like garb. We hear the clank of sabre, and the forceful tramp of 
booted officers echoing through the dismantled rooms of the old 
house. Earthworks spring up on every side, bristling with guns, 


and the native silence of the hills are awakened by the blast of 
bugles and the hoarse tones of command. We mark the progress 
of the Union forces in the camp life at Arlington. We see the 
tents that erstwhile sheltered strong and courageous men made 
now the resting-place of sick and wounded. We see them as they 
are brought from distant battle-fields and hear their groans, while 
in and out among them rush the busy surgeons. 

Then one by one the yellow mounds come into view to mark 
, the resting-places of the dead. We see them accumulate in num- 
ber, till thousands upon thousands of those who fell are laid 
beneath the sod of Arlington. We realize that without preconcep- 
tion or plan the estate has reached its highest destiny in the 
establishment of a national cemetery. We see it grow in beauty 
and in grandeur till it becomes a glowing tribute to the valor of 
those who died in battle, and to it living soldiers look with pride 
where they, too, will find a worthy sepulchre. We see the nation's 
most honored heroes laid to rest on the beautiful slope before the 
mansion, and with swelling hearts watch the pageant that attends 
these final ceremonies. We see in each recurring year old and 
young assemble at these graves to deck them with the fairest flowers, 
and see the outflow of the nation's Avorthiest sentiment in the 
pride and care bestowed upon the graves. 

To the thousands of visitors to Arlington the spot where stands 
the grave of Gen. Sheridan is one of greatest interest, and few 
there are who do not pay their tribute of respect to the worth and 
courage of so brave an officer. 

The ceremonies attending the burial of Sheridan at Arlington 
were of such an imposing character and were so widely heralded 
forth to the world through the columns of the press that the inci- 
dent marks one of the most noted dates in the history of the 

On the hot August day when the body of Sheridan was borne 
to the tomb the streets of Washington resounded again to the 
heavy clatter of cavalry troops, the dull rumbling of guns and 
caissons, and the marching and countermarching of regiments of 
infantry in solemn cadence. The long funeral procession passed 
slowly toward Arlington through the streets of Washington, the 
waving plumes of the cavalry- and the glistening lines of bayonets 
mingling softly with the fluttering bits of crape that decked hel- 
met and gun-barrel. 


The burial services are memorable as being among the most im- 
posing ever witnessed. Thousands gathered on the sloping hill- 
side, surrounding the great hollow square formed by the military 
escort, and bowed in silent reverence as the brief words of the 
solemn burial service floated out upon the still air. Many there 
were who remembered the first burial at Arlington in the days of 
the war and the contrast was forced home when, as the body was 
lowered into the grave, the sharp rattling tire of the rifles rang out 
in successive salutes to the dead leader and hero. Slowly the 
white smoke lifted and settled among the tree-tops, slowly the 
vast throng dispersed, and Arlington was left with its immortal 

As evening drew on, all evidence of metropolitan life vanished 
from the solemn scene. A solitary sentinel paced with slow step 
along the brow of the hill, his feet slashing with a drear, weird 
sound through the soaked and sodden grass as he passed the 
newly-made yellow mound standing out in relief against the dull 
monochrome of the misty gray sky. Overhead a few heavy- 
winged crows flapped lazily to the nests in the trees below the 
house, and dark, mysterious bats whirled quickly and silently 
about through the gloom-stricken trees and darker shadows of the 
now deserted portico. 

Gradually all sight of the city faded from view, and Arlington 
seemed to withdraw an immeasurable distance from the busy walk 
of life, and carry its treasured dead with jealous care into the 
sanctity of the forest primeval. Slowly the heavy, sodden trees- 
seemed to clgse in upon the grave and its occupant, and long,, 
ghostly shadows fell across it from these guards of nature. The 
heavy- winged messengers of night flew drowsily along, causing the 
sentinel ever and anon to start in nervous fear. The drab pillars, 
stood out from the mansion in ghostly relief, and the whole scene 
was a study in dull gray. 

Again, when the great Admiral was laid to rest, vast crowds- 
thronged the hillsides of Arlington and performed the last offices^ 
of friendship and admiration. These two, Sheridan and Porter, 
lie side by side at Arlington and as the dial of inexorable time 
strikes off the hours of the few remaining great ones of our nation's- 
saddest war, they too will lie on the sloping hillside that looks- 
toward Washington. 


This is the Arlington of to-daj, rich in memories, hallowed by 
associations ; the mausoleum of the greatest and the bravest ; the 
ast dread assembly ground where meet the rank and file of 
American valor in brotherly comradeship. 

Over the officers who lie at Arlington there are imposing 
monuments, with lengthy inscriptions setting forth their valorous 
deeds and praiseworthy achievements. Over the private soldier, 
who lies with his comrades under long lines of green mounds in 
regimental array, there is only a small slab, bearing a name and 
date, with scant room for an epitaph. At every roadside and at 
every by-path leading into the general sections, however, are 
tablets bearing an epitaph greater in language and sentiment than 
the mere empty words of ordinary eulogium. 

These are stanzas from the great elegiac poem of Col. Theodore 
O'Hara : 

The Bivouac of the Dead. 

The muffled drum's sad roll has beat 

The soldier's last tattoo ; 
No more on life's parade shall meet 

That brave and fallen few. 

On Fame's eternal camping ground 

Their silent tents are spread, 
And Glory guards with solemn round 

The bivouac of the dead. 

No rumor of the foe's advance 

Now swells upon the wind ; 
No troubled thought at midnight haunts 

Of loved ones left behind. 

No vision of the morrow's strife 

The warrior's dream alarms ; 
No braying horn nor screaming fife 

At dawn shall call to arms. 

The neighing troop, the flashing blade, 

The bugle's stirring blast ; 
The charge, the dreadful cannonade. 

The din and shout are past. 

Rest on, embalmed and sainted dead. 

Dear as the blood ye gave ; 
No impious footsteps here shall tread 

The herbage of your grave. 


Nor shall your glories be forgot 
While Fame her record keeps, 

Or Honor points the hallowed spot 
Where Valor proudly sleeps. 

Nor wreck, nor change, nor Winter's blight, 
Nor Time's remorseless doom. 

Shall dim one ray of holy light 
That gilds your glorious tomb. 



Way back in the early years of the century George Washington 
Parke Custis, the adopted son of George Washington, built Ar- 
lington House and established the estate in which the National 
Cemetery now stands. It stands as a connecting link between the 
historic time of struggle, in which the Government was first estab- 
lished, and the later and equally important years of strife that saw 
the principles for which the colonists fought once more trium- 
phant, and the fabric of Constitutional Government more firmly 
based upon a federation of loyal States. 

With every important epoch in the history of the country Ar- 
lington has had its connection. It brings forth recollections of 
Washington as vividly as phantoms of the past century. 

The life of its owner and founder is one of the brightest in- 
stances of what a country gentleman of seventy-five years ago 
could be. It was the home of General Robert E. Lee while he 
was one of the most distinguished officers of the United States 
Army, and finally, surrounded by the graves of those immortal 
heroes of the Civil War, it stands out a monument to American 
patriotism and courage. 

It would be difficult to tell in exactly what connection Arling- 
ton appears most interesting, and only by relating its history in 
what might be termed chronological order can a full appreciation 
of its historical importance be obtained. It was known and held 
as an estate by various persons long before the Revolution, having 
been originally a portion of a grant made by Sir William Berkeley, 
Governor of Virginia, to Robert Howsen, in 1669. After that it 
passed into the Alexander family, from which the city of Alexan- 
dria took its name, and from the Alexanders it was purchased by 
John Parke Custis, the son of Martha Washington, and the im- 
mediate ancestor of George Washington Parke Custis. It is with 
the life of the latter that the history of the estate properly begins. 

Born and reared under the most remarkable circumstances, 
and surrounded by aU that was best in the way of colonial refine- 


ment and culture, George Washington Parke Custis stamped the 
impress of his own character upon the home he established. 
The location and architecture of the house indicate culture and 
refined comfort, while the immensity of the estate, the beauty of 
the lawns, the broad and well-kept drives, and. the ample provis- 
ion everywhere for the comfort of both man and beast show the 
indelible traces of the genial and hospitable gentleman. 

In many respects the founder of Arlington was a remarkable 
man. He had good attainments and displayed much originality 
of thought, and force of expression, both in his writings and 
speeches, but he was lacking in ambition and accomplished very 

Over his early training, Washington had exercised the closest 
supervision. Having devoted all the best years of his own life to 
the service of his country, the great patriot was anxious that this 
his adopted son should be so reared that both in the legislative 
halls and on the field of battle he would be able to serve the Re- 
public, not so much with honor to himself as with profit to the 
nation. But in Custis, Washington's hopes were never realized. 
Always a lover of his country, he was willing at any time to take 
up arms in her defence, but he cared nothing for the turmoil of 
public life and preferred the soft arts of peace, and the quiet se- 
clusion of his beautiful country home, to the vain search for glory 
on the tented field, or a factional strife for political supremacy. 

The Custis family was one of the oldest in the country at the 
time of the Revolution, and, in the owner of Arlington, was com- 
bined with the Parke family of Virginia. For generations pre- 
ceding the final separation of the colonies from the mother 
country, the scions of these two families had distinguished them- 
selves, both at home and abroad, and with each successive 
achievement had won renown and wealth for themselves, and had 
added lustre to the fame of colonial chivalry. As early as 1687 
we find that a commission was granted Major General John 
Custis, by Johannes, Lord Howard of Effingham, His Majesty's 
Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, as collector of customs in cer- 
tain sections of Virginia. A grandson of this General Custis mar- 
ried the daughter of Daniel Parke and brought about a union 
of these two leading families. 

Daniel Parke was at this time the most distinguished and one 

of the most remarkable men that the colonies had produced. He 
was born in Virginia, but passed most of his life in England. He 
distinguished himself as a soldier, and at the battle of Blenheim 
served as an aide-de-camp to the Duke of Marlborough. When 
the great battle had been fought and won, it was Col. Parke that 
Marlborough selected to bear the tidings to the Queen of England. 
At the time, such a commission was esteemed a high honor, and 
it was customary for the Queen to present the bearer of such in- 
telligence with a reward of £500. Col. Parke, however, was a 
wealthy man, and cared little for money. He requested that in- 
stead of a purse the Queen present him with a portrait of herself ; 
this she consented to do, and among the treasures which the 
Colonel afterwards prized most highly was a painting of Queen 
Anne, done in miniature and set with diamonds. Col. Parke was 
afterwards commissioned a general and appointed Governor of 
the Leeward Islands, a promotion that cost him his life. 

An old book now in the possession of the Misses Lee, and for 
many years on the bookshelves at Arlington, written by George 
French, contains an account of the administration of Col. 
Parke at Antigua and of the soldierly manner of his death. 

A rebellion had risen in Antigua and Col. Parke had be- 
come obnoxious to a seditious faction. Against overpowering 
odds he waged unsuccessful battle until, driven back to his house, 
bereft of his command, he foiind himself, with scarcely a second, 
in a personal defence. He defied the whole strength of the rebels, 
however, until at last he received a shot in the thigh, which, 
though not mortal, disabled him and he fell into the enemy's 
hands. The story of his death is best told in the graphic words 
of the homely but thrilling narrative of the ancient chronicler : 

"They had now an opportunity to send him away to what 
place and in what manner they think fit, but instead thereof they 
use him in the utmost contempt and inhumanity. They strip him 
of his clothes, kick, spurn at, and beat him with the butts of their 
muskets, by which means, at last, they break his back. They 
drag him out into the streets by a leg and arm, and his head 
trails and beats from step to step of the stone stairs at the en- 
trance of his house, and he is dragged on the coarse gravelly street, 
which raked the skin from his bones. 

"These cruelties and tortures force tears from his eyes, and in 


this condition he is left expiring, exposed to the scorching sun, 
out of the heat of which he begs to be removed. The good- 
natured woman, who, at his request, brought him water to quench 
his thirst, is threatened by one Samuel Watkins to have a sword 
passed through her for her humanity, and the water is dashed 
out of her hands. 

" He is insulted and reviled by every scoundrel, in the agonies 
of death, but makes no other return but these mild expressions : 
' Gentlemen, if you have no sense of honor left, pray have some 
of humanity.' He gratefully owns the kindness of friends and 
prays God to reward those who stood by him that day. At last 
he was removed into the house of one Mr. John Wright, near the 
place where he lay, and there recommending his soul to God 
with some pious ejaculations, he pays the great debt of nature, 
and death, less cruel than his enemies, put a period to his suf- 

" After they had surfeited themselves with cruelties, they plun- 
dered the General's house and broke open his storehouses, so 
that his estate must have suffered by that day in money, plate, 
jewels, and household goods, by the most moderate computation, 
five thousand pounds sterling, for which his executors have ob- 
tained no satisfaction to this day. Thus died Col. Parke, 
whose brave end shows him sufficiently deserving of the commis- 
sion he bore, and by his death acquired an honor to his memory 
which the base aspersions of his enemies could not over- 

This tragedy occurred on the 7th of December, 1810. But 
while Col. Parke was chasing the bubble reputation at the can- 
non's mouth, Mrs. Parke was engaged in Virginia in rearing three 
beautiful and accomplished daughters. In his letters to his wife, 
Col. Parke assured her that his heart was in Virginia, but a pro- 
longed absence from that highly important organ seems to have 
had but little effect on the gallant Colonel, as his conduct shows 
that he much preferred the fascinations of court life and the ex- 
citement of battle to the society of his own wife and daughters. 
They got along well enough without him, however, and the three 
girls grew into handsome young women, such as the Colonel 
himself would have been proud of. 

The eldest one, Frances, was a proud and haughty beauty, for 


whom a mimber of young Virginia gentlemen were sighing. 
Among the number was Col. John Custis. 

Col. Custis was wealthy and occupied an influential position in 
the colonies. With these factors in his favor he was able to carry 
off the prize, and Miss Frances Parke became Mrs. John Custis. 

The couple went to live on Col. Custis' estate on the eastern 
shore of Virginia, which they called Arlington, in honor of the 
Earl of Arlington, to whom Charles the Second had made exten- 
sive grants in the Old Dominion. Mrs. Custis, while she had in- 
herited a goodly portion of beauty from both her parents, had also 
inherited from her father some of his sterner qualities, and Custis 
was not long in finding out that, with him, marriage had been a 
failure. The union proved anything but a happy one, and only 
the death of the lady put an end to their domestic infelicity. As 
a result of his unhappy married life. Col. Custis had placed, at 
his death, an inscription on his tombstone which clearly shows 
his estimation of his wife. The inscription has been frequently 
published before, but is so remarkable that it is here reproduced. 

Under this marble tomb lies the body 

of the Hon. John Custis, Esq., 

of the city of Williamsburg 

and parish of Bruton, 

formerly of Hengar's parish, on the 

Eastern Shore 

of Virginia and County of Northampton, 

aged 71 years, and yet lived but seven years, 

which was the space of time he kept 

a bachelor's home at Arlington, 

on the Eastern shore of Virginia. 

This monument was erected on his estate at Arlington, and was 
standing until a few years ago. 

Two children were the result of this marriage, a son, Daniel 
Parke Custis, and a daughter, Fannie Parke Custis. The latter 
married a Capt. Dausie, against her father's wishes, and was never 
afterwards recognized by her family. The son, Daniel, married 
the beautiful Martha Dandridge, afterwards the wife of Gen. 
George Washington. It was from this union that John Parke 
Custis, the father of the philosopher of Arlington, sprung. The 
marriage of young Custis and Martha Dandridge was one of the 
big social event of colonial times. The young lady had been the 


reigning belle at Williamsburg, where the royal governors of the 
colony held their court, and her marriage attracted the attention 
of the entire official circle. 

After their marriage they went to live at what was then the 
seat of the Custises, on the banks of the Pamunkey, where their 
union was blessed with four children, Daniel Parke, Fannie Parke, 
John Parke, and Martha Parke. The two oldest children died 
very young, and at the age of thirty their father also died, leav- 
ing Mrs. Custis a young widow, with two small children. 

She was wealthy, having come into possession of all the Custis 
estates, and handsome, and when her period of mourning for the 
late Mr. Custis had expired, became once more as attractive to 
suitors as she had been before her marriage. It was therefore 
not long before the cavaliers of the Old Dominion once more 
*' came a-wooing " to the home of the beautiful Custis widow. 

There was among them a young and distinguished officer of the 
colonial service, who had already attracted attention, both by his 
courage and brilliant abilities as a soldier, and his sterling qual- 
ities of mind and character. Except for these qualities, however, 
the gentleman was little distinguished either by wealth or influ- 
ence, but this fact had small weight with the beautiful widow, and 
she was soon persuaded to cast off her weeds to become the wife 
of Col. George Washington. 

Of the happiness of this union, the constant devotion of one to 
the other, and the perfection of domestic bliss which their home 
lives at Mt. Vernon attained, it is not the purpose of this volume 
to treat. 

The importance of the union so far as this work is concerned 
lies in the fact that by the marriage of Washington and the Widow 
Custis the former became the guardian and natural protector of 
John Parke Custis, the head of the Custis family. 

The two children, John and Martha Custis, were still quite 
young when their mother became Mrs. Washington. They were 
taken to Mount Vernon, and for several years spent the happy 
hours of their childhood playing about the lawns that slope from 
the historic old mansion down to the Potomac. 

Of Martha little need be said. In what little was written about 
her by contemporaneous historians, she is described as being a 
handsome, but exceedingly dark brunette. She had a great affec- 


tion for her stepfather, and he regarded her with all the feeling 
of pride and affection that a man could bestow upon his own 
child. Her life, however, was a brief one, and at the age of six- 
teen she died at Mount Vernon. All her fortune, which she had 
inherited from her father, she bequeathed to Washington. 

John Parke Custis, the other child, was a sturdy youth on 
whom Mrs. Washington, after the death of her daughter, centered 
all her affections, and in whom Washington took a deep interest. 
Washington was exceedingly anxious that he should receive a 
thorough education, and with this end in view placed him under 
the care of an Episcopal clergyman at Annapolis, in Maryland. 
Young Custis, however, had little liking for study, and finding 
the restraint of the good clergyman, with whom he lodged, of the 
mildest form, he spent a great portion of his time in hunting, 
and in other pursuits, a taste for which he had inherited from 
his hearty and adventurous ancestors. Tiring altogether of 
his books, he conceived a passionate desire to travel, but 
in this he found himself opposed by the indomitable will of 

It is almost unnecessary to say that in a conflict between the 
two the inflexible determination of Washington prevailed, and 
young Custis was sent back to his books. 

But Custis was not a youth who could be totally suppressed, 
even by the conqueror of British armies, and before very long he 
had found a new diversion from his studies and had become en- 
gaged to Eleanor Calvert, the second daughter of Benedict Calvert, 
of Mt. Airy, Maryland, a direct descendant from Lord Baltimore. 
Custis was then about eighteen years of age and the news of his 
engagement, which Washington regarded as another youthful 
escapade, was received by that gentleman with great displeasure. 
He did nothing, however, to prevent the union, but on the other 
hand wrote to the young lady's father, suggesting that the engage- 
ment be continued, but insisting that the marriage be deferred 
until Custis had completed his education. 

It was accordingly agreed that the youth should spend two 
years at Kings College, now Columbia College, New York, and he 
-was sent there to continue his studies. 

He remained at college but a few months, however, and then, 
despite the opposition of the elders on both sides, married Miss 


Calvert on the 3d of February, 1774, when little more than nine- 
teen years of age. 

Custis took his youthful bride to Abbingdon, an estate not far 
from Alexandria, where four children were born to them. These 
were Elizabeth Parke, who afterwards married Mr. Law, a nephew 
of Lord EUenborough ; Martha Parke, who was married early to 
Thomas Peter ; Eleanor Parke, who married Lawrence Lewis, a 
nephew of Washington, and George Washington Parke Custis, 
the owner of the Arlington estate. 

With the beginning of the Revolutionary War, John Parke 
CfUstis promptly offered his services to his country and served 
with distinction through all the battles, as an aide to General 
Washington. His death was brought about by camp fever, which 
hie contracted during the siege of Yorktown. The disease attacked 
him very violently, just as the siege was about to end. He real- 
ized that it would terminate fatally, but insisted on remaining in 
camp to witness the surrender of Cornwallis. He was supported 
by his attendants to the place where the surrender took place, and 
after he had seen the sword of the British commander turned 
over to Washington, was removed to Eltham, a country place not 
far distant. Washington followed him hastily the same evening, 
but arrived at Eltham only a short time before his death. Mrs. 
Custis was present when her husband expired, and as she stood 
beside his death-bed, weeping bitterly, Washington clasped her 
tenderly in his arms and said, " From this moment I adopt his 
two youngest children as my own." 

In this manner George Washington Parke Custis and his sister 
Eleanor became the children of the first President, and their 
childhood was inseparably connected with the home life at 
Mount Vernon. 

George Washington Parke Custis was but six months old when 
the death of his father left him to the care of General Washington. 
From that time to the death of Washington himself, his life was spent 
principally at the home of the great patriot, sometimes at Mount 
Vernon and a portion of the time in the household of the Presi- 
dent at New York and Philadelphia. 

The war in which the colonies had been plunged ended shortly 
after his birth, and it was with scenes of peace and rapidly extend- 
ing prosperity that his earliest recollections were associated. He 


was eight years of age when, in 1789, Washington was inaugurated 
the first President of the United States. Previous to this, the 
boy had played games with Lafayette and the other heroes of the 
Revolution, upon the lawns of Mount Vernon, and was as well 
acquainted with all the prominent men of the time as a boy could 
be. Tney were, in fact, about his only playfellows, and if not 
romping with them he was toddling along by the side of his foster 
parent, listening with precocious gravity to some discussion 
Washington was having with one of his numerous and distin- 
guished visitors. 

When Washington moved to New York, as President of the 
United States, little Custis and his sister Eleanor were taken 
along and became a part of the Presidential household, in the old 
Osgood house, on Cherry street. Of his surroundings and asso- 
ciations during the eventful years he spent there, an idea can be 
best obtained from his own description of the Washington house- 
hold, given in his memoirs of Washington. These were published 
after his death by his daughter, Mrs. Robert E. Lee, and can now 
be found only in a few of the more complete libraries of the 

" His domestic family," Mr. Custis says, speaking of President 
Washington, " consisted of Mrs. Washington, the two adopted 
children, Mr. Lear, Colonel Humphreys, and Messrs. Nelson and 
Lewis, secretaries, and Major William Jackson, aide-de-camp. 

" Persons visiting the house in Cherry street at this time will 
wonder how a building so small could contain the many and 
mighty spirits that thronged it. Congress, Cabinet, all public 
functionaries in the commencement of the Government, were se- 
lected from the very ^lite of the nation. Pure patriotism, com- 
manding talent, eminent services, were the proud and indispen- 
sable requisites for official station in the first days of the Republic. 

" The first Congress was a most enlightened and dignified body» 
In the Senate were several members of the Congress of 1776, and 
signers of the Declaration of Independence — Richard Henry Lee, 
who moved the Declaration, John Adams, who seconded it, with 
Sherman, Morris, Carroll, and others. 

" The levees of the first President were attended by these illustri- 
ous men and by many others of the patriots, statesmen, and sol- 
diers, who could say of the Revolution, " Magna pars fui" while 


numbers of foreigners and strangers of distinction crowded to the 
seat of the General Government, all anxious to witness the grand 
experiment that was to determine how much rational liberty man- 
kind is capable of enjoying, without that liberty degenerating into 

" Mrs. Washington's drawing-rooms on Friday nights were at- 
tended by the grace and beauty of New York. The President 
himself was always present, and about him gathered the most dis- 
tinguished of the Revolutionary heroes." 

Amid such scenes and with such surroundings young Custis 
grew to manhood. He had constantly before him as a guide to 
his conduct and habits of thought the lofty example of Washing- 
ton and his compatriots, while over his studies and pleasures 
Washington exercised a careful and a fatherly supervision. The 
idol of his grandmother and the hope of his foster father, the re- 
straint placed upon him by his guardians was only that which 
might save him from habits of dissipation, or licentious associa- 
tion. It was small wonder, then, that the boy should reach his 
early manhood with the loftiest ideas of honor and propriety of 
conduct. His unswerving integrity was almost as marked as that 
of Washington himself. He abhorred the licentious vices of other 
young men of his age, while his patriotism and generosity, which 
he breathed in with the atmosphere in which he lived, were mani- 
fest in his character throughout his entire life. 

But though Custis was in the matter of virtue and sentiment a 
credit to his friends, he was woefully lacking in firmness and in 
energy. The term dillettante describes his character exactly. He 
had some knowledge of art, and at his home in Arlington painted 
a number of pictures, principally of battle scenes, with Washing- 
ton as the central figure. He was a graceful and forcible writer, 
but his literary works consist only of an imperfect series of papers 
on Washington, some fragmentary poems, and a few poor dramas. 
He was an orator capable of rare eloquence, but he never used 
this ability save at a few funerals or on some occasion where the 
duty of welcoming a guest or of praising a friend devolved upon 
him. Even as a farmer he was a theorist and a dreamer, and 
though he made numerous wise efforts to improve the agricul- 
tural methods of his time, his weakness of purpose and lack of 
ambition rendered these endeavors abortive. But with all this. 


his character stands out, in the early history of the century, 
with great prominence, as that of a genial and accomplished 
gentleman, simple and modest in demeanor, unswerving in his 
integrity and friendships, a lover of all that was best in his 
fellow-men and in the institutions of his country. He was such a 
man as historians ignore but mankind bestows its reverence and 
affection upon. 

The weakness in the character of Custis was very apparent to 
Washington and caused him great anxiety and disappointment. 
" He had a tear, for we have seen it shed with parental solicitude 
over the manifold errors and follies of our unworthy youth," says 
Custis himself, in treating of the character of Washington, but 
the tears shed by the General were due entirely to his own dis- 
appointment. He had very ambitious hopes for his adopted son, and 
it was with bitter regret that he saw they could never be realized. 
Custis cared nothing for the allurements of public life. He never 
conceived the idea that there was any likelihood his country would 
need his services as a statesman, and while he entered, as a student, 
into Washington's schemes for his future welfare with good- 
natured complaisance, he never made the slightest effort to bring 
about their success. 

Custis' early education he received from tutors at Mount 
Vernon, but when he was fifteen years of age he was sent to 
Princeton College, and while there he was constantly receiving 
letters from Washington urging him to attend closely to his 
studies, and finding fault at times with the younger man's slow 
progress. The correspondence between Washington and young 
Custis at this period is of considerable interest. Custis is con- 
stantly veiling excuses for his own idleness under expressions of 
the warmest admiration and affection for Washington. He ad- 
dresses his foster father in terms that must have seemed to the 
elder man pedantic and affected ; for in his replies Washington 
pays no attention to the well-meant flattery which Custis' letters 
contain, but shows clearly that he fully understands the youth's 
subterfuges and takes no care to conceal the anger they cause 

In a letter written from Philadelphia in 1796, he says to 
Custis : 

" You are now extending into that stage of life when good or 


bad habits are formed ; when the mind will be turned to things 
nseful and praiseworthy, or to dissipation and vice. Fix on 
whichever it may, it will stick by you; for you know it has been 
truly said ' that as the twig is bent so it will grow.' This, in a 
strong point of view, shows the propriety of letting your inexpe- 
rience be directed by maturer advice, and in placing guard upon 
the avenues which lead to idleness and vice. The latter will ap- 
proach like a thief, working upon your passions, encouraged, 
perhaps, by bad examples, the propensity to which will increase 
in proportion to the practice of it and your yielding. 

" This admonition proceeds from the purest affection for you ; 
but I do not mean by it that you are to become a stoic, or to de- 
prive yourself in the intervals of study of any recreations or 
manly exercises which reason approves. 

" ' Tis well to be on good terms with all your fellow-students, 
and I am pleased to hear you are so ; but while a courteous be- 
havior is due to all, select the most deserving only for your friend- 
ships, and before this becomes intimate weigh their dispositions 
and characters well. 

" True friendship is a plant of slow growth ; to be sincere there 
must be a congeniality of temper and pursuits. Virtue and vice 
cannot be allied, nor can idleness and industry, 

" Of course, if you resolve to adhere to the two former of these 
extremes, an intimacy with those who incline to the latter of 
them would be extremely embarrassing to you ; it would be a 
stumbling-block in your way, and act like a millstone hung to 
your neck, for it is the nature of idleness and vice to obtain as 
many votaries as they can. I would guard you, too, against im- 
bibing hasty and unfavorable impressions of any one. Let your 
judgment always balance well before you decide ; and even then 
where there is no occasion for expressing an opinion it is best to 
be silent, for there is nothing more certain than that it is at all 
times more easy to make enemies than friends. And besides, 
to speak evil of any one, unless there is unequivocal proof of 
their deserving it, is an injury for which there is no adequate 
reparation. For, as Shakespeare says, ' He that robs me 
of my good name enriches not himself, but renders me poor 
indeed.' " 

There are a number of other letters showing the fatherly solici- 


tilde of Washington for Custis' welfare, all couclied in a tone of 
mild reproof. As the years pass, the reproof becomes more pro- 
nounced until it closely resembles fault-finding. For, in spite of 
all that Washington could do or say, Custis was willing only to 
do the work he found most agreeable, and his reading was of a 
desultory character, such as his own inclinations led to. 

The young man was transferred from Princeton to Annapolis, 
where he continued his studies under the direction of Mr. Mc- 
Dowell, president of Annapolis College. Washington, in a letter 
to that gentleman, in 1798, gives an estimate of Custis' character and 
ability which is here valuable. He says, after explaining that a 
fever had prevented his writing earlier : 

" Were the case otherwise, I should, I confess, be at a loss to 
point out any precise course of study for Mr. Custis. My 
views regarding him have already been made known to you, and 
therefore it is not necessary to repeat them on this occasion. It 
is not merely the best course for him to pursue that requires a 
consideration, but such an one as he can be induced to pursue and 
will contribute to his improvement and the object in view. In 
directing the first of these objects, a gentleman of your literary 
discernment and knowledge of the world would be at no loss, 
without any suggestion of mine, if there was as good a disposition 
to receive as there are talents to acquire knowledge ; but as there 
seems to be in this youth an inconquerable indolence of temper 
and a dereliction, in fact, to all study, it must rest with you to 
lead him in the best manner, and by the easiest modes you can de- 
vise, to the study of such useful acquirements as may be serviceable 
to himself and eventually beneficial to his country." 

Almost immediately after the date of this letter Custis left col- 
lege at Annapolis and was permitted by Washington to continue 
his studies with a tutor at Mount Vernon. 

About this time he was appointed a cornet of horse in the army 
and soon afterwards was promoted to the position of aide-de- 
camp to Gen. Charles Cotes worth Pinckney, of South Carolina, 
with the rank of colonel. A few months afterwards the death of 
Washington occurred, and this event had a marked efifect upon 
young Custis' character and after-life. 

He was sincerely attached to his foster-father and never lost 
the feeling of extreme admiration and reverence with which Wash- 


ington had inspired him. But, with the latter's death, all the am- 
bitious plans for Custis' advancement vanished into thin air, and 
the young man became the good-natured and indolent gentleman 
of refined tastes such as we find him years afterwards at 
Arlington. Washington's confidence in him is shown by the 
fact that in his will he made him one of the executors of 
his estate. 



The death of Washington caused no immediate change in the 
domestic circle at Mount Vernon. Mrs. Washington continued 
to live at the old homestead, and her grandson remained with her. 
At Mrs. Washington's death, two years later, however, the estate 
passed to other members of the Washington family, and Custis 
took up his residence at Arlington. 

At this time Custis was a very wealthy man. He had just 
reached his 21st birthday and had succeeded to all the Custis 
estates left by his father. They consisted of extensive and fertile 
plantations in Westmoreland county and along the Pamunkey 
river, and the Arlington estate, embracing about 1,100 acres, 
which his father, John Custis, as already stated, had purchased 
from the Alexanders. In addition he inherited from Washington 
a tract of 1,200 acres of land lying north of Arlington, in Fairfax 
county. He possessed a large number of slaves, a great many 
horses, used in the cultivation of his estates, and other forms of 

It was the magnificent location of the Arlington estate that 
caused Custis to select it, from among his other possessions, as 
his home. The Capital of the Nation had already been moved to 
Washington, and the growth of the magnificent federal city was 
making fair progress. Within sight of the Capitol building and 
overlooking the beautiful river, with which Custis had been 
familiar from his earliest childhood, no better site for a future 
home could possibly have been selected. It was contiguous to 
the country about Mt. Vernon, endeared to him by so many 
valued associations, and within easy reaching distance of Alexan- 
dria, then a centre for the wealth and fashion of the Old Domin- 

But the Arlington on which Custis took up his residence then 
hore no resemblance in appearance to the Arlington of his later 
years. The estate consisted chiefly of woodland, with but a few 


hundred acres of cleared land lying below the hills, on the banks 
of the river. In this cleared space stood the manor house, an un- 
pretentious dwelling containing only four rooms. It was located 
near the bank of what was called the Little River, about a mile 
to the eastward of the present mansion, and was surrounded by a 
grove of magnificent oaks. Not far below it was the famous Cus- 
tis Spring, about which so much has been written. The crumbling 
walls of the old mansion still stand to mark the spot on which it 
stood, and until the occupation of the estate by the Federal 
forces, it was in a fair state of preservation. Within a few years, 
however, the building has been almost completely demolished by 
direction of the War Department, for what purpose no one has 
yet been able to determine. 

The house was a very old one, having been erected by the 
Alexanders in the early part of the 18th century, long before 
the old house at Mount Vernon had been thought of. Had it been 
treated by the Government with the respect which the antiquity 
of its origin merited it would be now one of the most interesting 
relics of the early history of the country. But the War Depart- 
ment had little more use for the old mansion as a relic than did 
Custis as a place of residence. It was with him but a temporary 
abode, and within a year of his leaving Mount Vernon he began 
the erection of the splendid "Arlington House," which, from its 
present condition, would seem to have been built for all time as a 
monument to its founder. 

Mr. Custis, in selecting the site for his house, showed clearly 
his appreciation of the beautiful, and his artistic tastes and broad 
mental visions are manifest in the structure which he designed 
and erected. 

The tall massive columns of the portico are designed from the 
most perfect type of Greek architecture, while the broad hallways 
and spacious chambers are indicative, even in their present dis- 
mantled condition, of wholesome comfort and homely elegance. 

The house is modeled after the ancient Temple of Theseus at 
Athens, but in adopting this design Mr. Custis only followed a 
custom that prevailed throughout the South, and, indeed, in some 
parts of New England, in the early part of the century. In 
building his house, Mr. Custis, however, brought the style to a 
higher state of perfection than it had attained before, and 


■''Arlington House " was known from the time of its erection till 
the breaking out of the war as the finest specimen of the landed 
proprietor's residence that could be found within the limits of the 
slave States. 

It was built of brick, and stuccoed, and the material for its 
construction was produced on the grounds about it. Brick-yards 
were established on a portion of the estate, now part of Fort 
Myer, where the bricks were burned under Mr. Custis' own 

Just about the time the Arlington Mansion was completed 
Mr. Custis married Mary Lee Fitzhugh, the daughter of Fitzhugh 
of Chatham, near Fredericksburg. He was then but twenty- 
three years of age, while his wife was but sixteen. He took his 
bride to Arlington at once, and there, for the next fifty years, 
they lived a life of the most delightful contentment, surrounded 
■constantly by relatives and guests. 

With the generous hospitality of a wealtliy Virginia planter, 
Mr. Custis entertained lavishly. All the old revolutionary heroes 
were welcome guests at his board, while the distinguished men 
of a succeeding generation delighted in visiting the hospitable 

Once comfortably settled with his bride in their new and mag- 
ficent home, Mr. Custis gave his attention to improving the agri- 
cultural methods of the time. In 1803 Col. David Humphreys 
returned from a mission to Spain, bringing with him one hundred 
fine-wooled Merino sheep. 

Custis took a great interest in the matter of stock breeding and 
domestic manufactures, and he saw in the advent of the Merinos 
a promise of the opening, in America, of woolen cloth making. 
At that time all the cloth of this character used in the country 
was imported from England, and could only be obtained at con- 
siderable cost. The importance of the matter, because of the 
success of the manufacture of cotton cloth by the Southern States, 
was occupying then the thoughts of a number of public-spirited 

To foster improvements in sheep and to encourage woolen 
manufacture at home, Mr. Custis, in 1803, called a convention 
of those interested in sheep husbandry and wool manufacture. 
It met at Arlington House and really marked the beginning of 


the woolen-manufacturing interests of the country. It is not 
known whether or not this convention recommended the impo- 
sition by Congress of a tariff on woolen goods, but from the views 
held at that time regarding, and the actual needs of, an infant in- 
dustry, it is presumed it did. The convention also led to the 
adoption by Mr. Custis of a custom which rendered his fine estate 
and himself famous throughout the country. He entered into 
sheep-raising with considerable ardor, and in succeeding years 
the annual sheep-shearing at Arlington Spring brought together 
from all parts of the country an assemblage of men interested in 
the industry, and others distinguished by their ability in public 
life. All were the guests of Mr. Custis, and the occasion became 
almost an annual festival. 

The spring at which the gatherings took place was at the foot 
of a wooded slope, near the bank of the river and not far from 
where stood the old Alexander mansion. It was a pure and 
copious fountain, gushing out from the roots of a huge and vener- 
able oak tree, which doubtless stood there when the Indians of a 
former age came thither to slake their thirst. Around the spring 
a beautiful grassy lawn, shaded by a variety of trees, extended, 
affording a magnificent resort for such meetings. Mr. Custis 
always presided. Toasts were drunk, speeches were made, and 
prizes were awarded by Mr. Custis to the persons bringing, for 
purposes of exhibition, the finest specimens of sheep. Generally 
these ceremonies took place under the shelter of Washington's 
war tent, which was brought out for the occasion from among the 
treasured relics of the first President that Mr. Custis possessed. 

The host usually made a stirring address, and in one of his 
speeches, delivered while wool manufactures were yet unknown in 
America, he said prophetically : " America shall be great and free 
and minister to her own wants by the employment of her own re- 
sources. The citizens of my country will proudly appear when 
clothed in the produce of their own native soil." 

The efforts Mr. Custis was making in behalf of the sheep-rais- 
ing industry attracted general attention, and among his letters of 
that time we find several from James Madison, then Secretary of 
State, and afterwards President of the United States. 

In one of these Mr. Custis is informed that Mr. Madison " of- 
fers for himself the thanks to which Mr. Custis is entitled from 


his fellow-citizens for his laudable and encouraging efforts to in- 
crease and improve an animal which contributes a material so 
precious to the independent comfort and prosperity of our coun- 
try. Mr. Madison wishes that Mr. Custis may be amply gratiified 
in the success of his improving experiments, and that his patri- 
otic example may find as many followers as it merits." 

In another letter on the same subject, Mr. Madison says : " It 
gives me pleasure to find your attention to this interesting subject 
does not relax, and that you are successfully inviting to it other 
public-spirited gentlemen." 

In this matter, however, like in a good many others, Mr. Cus- 
tis understood the theory of sheep-raising and of arousing inter- 
est in the subject better than he did the practice. His own efforts 
met with very poor success. He established a large flock of 
Merinos on the hills of Arlington, but they were gradually kiUed 
off by thieves and dogs, until but two animals remained to show 
that Mr. Custis was still true to his principles. 

The absence of the sheep somewhat interfered with the suc- 
cessful continuation of the annual sheep-shearing gatherings at 
the Custis spring and they were eventually abandoned. 

Mr. Custis retained his interest in sheep-raising, however, and 
before his own flock became extinct he had the satisfaction of 
seeing the manufacture of American woolens grow into an impor- 
tant industry. He also maintained a broad and deep interest in 
all other agricultural pursuits, and for a great many years he was 
an active member and one of the vice-presidents of the American 
Agricultural Society. 

When the war of 1812 occurred Mr, Custis served as a volun- 
teer to oppose the British when they entered Maryland and 
ascended the Potomac to attack the Capital. He fought in the 
battle of North Point as a private soldier. After the war he re- 
fused to accept any compensation for his services, but rendered 
assistance to his less wealthy companions in arms in prosecuting 
legitimate claims against the Government. 

During these earlier years of the century Mr. Custis was widely 
known as the adopted child of George Washington, and as the 
character of that soldier and statesman was better understood 
and appreciated by the generation that succeeded his, as the 
years passed, Mr. Custis became more and more an object of re- 


spect and veneration. His own character, too, entitled him to the 
utmost consideration from his contemporaries. He was sought 
after as a public speaker ; invitations to his home at Arlington 
were coveted by the leading men of the time, and his friendship 
was cherished by all he bestowed it upon. Congress invited him 
to deliver an address to a joint assemblage of the two houses on 
the character of his foster-father, and everywhere he was accorded 
the utmost respect and consideration. 

A number of Mr. Custis' speeches were preserved by his rela- 
tives, and they show him to have been a speaker of marked abil- 
ity and eloquence. An address he delivered on the death of 
General Lingan is still admired by readers, and another speech, 
which he delivered on the overthrow of Napoleon, called forth 
the most graceful acknowledgments from the representative of 
Russia at Washington, and from other foreign ministers. 

When Lafayette revisited the United States in 1824, among 
his first visits was one to Mr. Custis. During Lafayette's exile 
from France, his son, George Washington Lafayette, had lived 
for a period of several months with Washington at Mount Vernon. 
There he had formed a strong attachment for young Custis, and 
the two renewed their friendship on this occasion with the utmost 
warmth. Lafayette spent much time with Mr. Custis, and en- 
riched, during his stay, the latter's fund of information concern- 
ing Washington, from his own reminiscences of his old com- 
mander. Together they visited the tomb of Washington, where, 
beside the last resting-place of the country's greatest hero, Mr. 
Custis presented the illustrious Frenchman with a ring, in which 
was some of the hair of the dead chieftain. The following ac- 
count of the visit was found by the authors in the files of the old 
National Intelligencer, and was published in that paper immedi- 
ately after the occurrence, on the 26th of October, 1824 : 

" The solemn and imposing scene of the visit of Lafayette to 
the tomb of Washington took place on Sunday, the 17th of Octo- 
ber, 1824. About 1 o'clock the General left the steamboat 
Petersburg^ at anchor off Mount Vernon, and was received into a 
barge manned and steered by captains of vessels from Alexandria, 
who had handsomely volunteered their services for this interest- 
ing occasion. He was accompanied in the barge by his family 
and suite, and Mr. Secretary John C. Calhoun. On reaching the 


shores he was received by Mr. Lawrence Lewis, the nephew of 
Washington, and by the gentlemen of the family of Judge Bushrod 
Washington (the Judge himself being absent on ofl&cial duties), 
and conducted to the ancient mansion, where, forty years before, 
Lafayette took the last leave of his * hero, his friend, and our 
country's preserver.' 

" After remaining a few minutes in the house the General pro- 
ceeded to the vault, supported by Mr. Lewis and the gentlemen 
relatives of the Judge, and accompanied by G. W. Lafayette and 
G. W. P. Custis, the children of Mt. Yernon, both having shared 
the paternal care of the great chief. Mr. Custis wore the ring sus- 
pended from a Cincinnati ribbon. Arrived at the sepulchre, after 
a pause, Mr. Custis addressed the General as follows : 

* * * * * * 

" The General, having received the ring, pressed it to his bosom 
and replied : 

" ' The feelings which at this awful moment oppress my heart 
do not leave the power of utterance. I can only thank you, my 
dear Custis, for your precious gift and pay a silent homage to the 
tomb of the greatest and best of men, my paternal friend.' 

" The General affectionally embraced the donor and the other 
three gentlemen, and gazing intently on the receptacle of departed 
greatness, fervently pressed his lips to the door of the vault, while 
tears filled the furrows of the veteran's cheeks. The key was now 
applied to the lock, the door flew open and discovered the coffins 
strewn with flowers and with evergreens. The General descended 
the steps and kissed the leaden cells which contained the ashes of the 
great chief and his venerable consort, and then retired in an excess 
of feeling which language is too poor to describe. After partak- 
ing of refreshments at the house and making a slight tour of the 
grounds, the General returned to the shore. In descending the 
hill to the river the horses became restive. Some spirited young 
men rushed forward, removed them from the carriage and wouid 
have drawn the vehicle themselves. But this the General would 
not permit, and, alighting, he walked to the shore, a distance of 
about a quarter of a mile. 

" Previous to re-embarkation, Mr. Custis presented the Cincin- 
nati ribbon, which had borne the ring to the vault, to Major Ewell, a 
veteran of the Revolution, requesting him to take part of it and 


divide the remainder among the yonng men present, which was 
done, and a general struggle ensued for the smallest portion of it. 
The same barge conveyed the General to the Petersburg, the 
Marine Band playing, as before, a strain of solemn music. The 
vessel immediately proceeded on her voyage to Yorktown. Not 
a soul intruded upon the privacy of the visit to the tomb. Noth- 
ing occurred to disturb its reverential solemnity. The old oaks 
which grew around the sepulchre, touched with the mellow lustre 
of autumn, appeared rich and ripe as the autumnal honors of 
Lafayette. Not a murmur was heard save the strains of solemn 
music and the deep and measured sound of artillery, which awoke 
the echoes around the hallowed heights of Mount Vernon. 

" ' Tis done ! The greatest and most affecting scene of the grand 
drama has closed, and the pilgrim who now repairs to the tomb 
of the Father of his Country will find its laurels moistened by the 
tears of Lafayette." 

Mr. Custis never, as already intimated, cut much of a figure as 
a public man. Most of the public gatherings in which he took 
an active part, such as the sheep -raisers' convention, and kindred 
meetings, were held at Arlington, where he appeared more in the 
character of a host than of an individual endeavoring to affect 
public opinion or public events. He spent most of his time at 
home, and there he delighted to play the host to whoever came 
his way. He cared not whether the wayfarer that entered his 
grounds was shabbily dressed, or arrayed in purple and fine linen. 
One was as welcome as the other, and neither was allowed to de- 
part until he had feasted with his host and pledged his health in 
a glass of something invigorating. Prohibitionists were scarce in 
those days, although temperance was the rule and not the excep- 
tion among the better classes, so that Mr. Custis' kindly enter- 
tainment of the stranger at his gates did not call forth the storm 
of public condemnation that it would now. But indeed Custis 
would have cared little if it had. In his home life he cared about 
as much for what his neighbors and the good gossips among 
them might say concerning him as did the early American savages 
for the tracts sent them by the well-intending missionary societies 
of the mother country. 

He had very well-defined principles of his own, and if he lived 
up to them he was satisfied. It was one of his customs to attend 


the inauguration of each succeeding President from the time of 
Washington until 1857. But except when some such state occa- 
sion took him to the Capital his visits to Washington were not 
frequent. After the visit of Lafayette his public appearances be- 
came few and far between. He was then a middle-aged man, and 
his home life, surrounded as it was with so much that brought to 
him recollections of a glorious past, was all that he desired. 

He was at this time a sturdy man, though slightly built. The 
promise of personal beauty which his early youth had given 
was not exactly fulfilled in his maturer years. His features were 
sharp and irregular, his nose long and thin, his forehead low and 
receding, his hair was light and thin, and in after years his head 
was bald. A firmly set mouth and a well-rounded chin were hi& 
best features, and indicated a firmness of character which his light- 
blue and rather weak eyes seemed to contradict. His cheeks were 
slightly sunken and gave to his face a somewhat cadaverous ap- 
pearance, which was hardly improved by the thin side-whiskers he 
wore. He was careless with his dress, and the visitor to Arlington 
was often surprised at the shabby-appearing gentleman who ap- 
peared to welcome him to so splendid a mansion. 

Mr. Custis was a great hunter, and in his out-of-doors life he 
was generally accompanied by his gun and his dogs. There was- 
plenty of game on the Arlington hills, and Mr. Custis combined 
the work of superintending the operations of his numerous slaves 
with the pleasure of hunting. He was a good shot and tireless- 
when in pursuit of game. None of the younger men, in fact,, 
could keep pace with him, and he often amused himself, when 
hunting with a party of his guests, by tiring them all out, though 
most of them were his juniors by a number of years. On these 
occasions, and they were generally such as remained in the mem- 
ories of those who participated in the expeditions as very pleasant 
recollections, the day generally wound up with a banquet at the 
house of the host and an evening of delightful gaiety. When the 
company would assemble around the banquet table, Mr. Custis 
delighted in making merry over the fatigue experienced by his 
guests during the day. He would pretend that he himself was 
but a shadow of liis former self, and would relate stories of hia 
early youth, and of the prowess of the men that won the revolu- 
tionary battles, that made his guests smile incredulously. Of 


course, none of this good-natured raillery was meant by the genial 
host, and as his guests recognized its insincerity they laughed 
with him at their own expense and discomfiture. 

Mr. Custis at this time conducted his estates on a system that 
was almost like the governing of a small principality. The 
Arlington estate was his home, and upon it he did very little 
farming for profit. His income he derived from what he called 
his farms in Westmoreland county. The Arlington estate was 
simply his private grounds, and its cultivation at all was for the 
purpose of providing for the numerous slaves that he kept about 
him. In his treatment of his negroes, Mr. Custis was as consid- 
erate as he was regarding any other class of human beings, and 
the glaring evils of slavery were never apparent upon his property. 
Each slave had a house apportioned him, and a bit of ground, 
the produce of which he owned as securely as if his title to the 
land he occupied was duly recorded in the records of the county 

The slaves were of course compelled to give a good portion 
of their time to the master's service, but their work was not hard 
and they were liberally provided for in decrepit old age as well 
as in sturdy youth. Mr. Custis also respected the domestic rela- 
tions of the negroes, and the separation of mothers from their 
children and of wives from their husbands was a practice in 
which he never indulged himself, and which he abhorred in 
others. As a result his slaves were devoted to him. He was 
not only a kind master, bat was their friend, and delighted as 
much in joking with them, and in making harmless fun of them, 
as he did in the conversations of his neighbors. Active both in 
mental and physical exercise, Mr. Custis' out-door life at Arling- 
ton was at once to him a source of pleasurable recreation and of 
physical health and vigor. 

His in-door life was equally admirable. To judge of the home 
he occupied, one must picture the now bare and desolate rooms 
of the fine old mansion filled with the handsome furniture of a 
hundred years ago, the walls resplendent with art treasures, 
and the whole house glowing with life and comfort. Through the 
open windows the scent of flowers is wafted in on the summer 
breezes. Flowers grace the tables and ornament the mantelpieces, 
and on every side are evidences of wealth, culture, and house- 


wifely taste. The rooms are tilled with Mr. Custis' guests, and 
bustling about, in obedience to instructions given, are numerous 
black-faced servants, all neatly dressed, and all proud of the 
master they serve. The central figure in this goodly assemblage 
is the host, courteous and considerate to all. His anecdotes are 
the best that are told, his views on all topics are listened to with 
respect, and his regard is desired by everyone about him. 

Mr. Custis' home life was not constantly spent, however, in en- 
tertaining his guests. He had his hours for work, and spent them 
in his library, where he engaged himself either with his incom- 
pleted literary efforts or with his attempted reproductions in oil 
of revolutionary scenes and figures. He read a great deal, but 
his reading was done generally at times when Arlington was de- 
serted by guests. When there were people about to enjoy them- 
selves Mr. Custis preferred being among them, and really got 
more enjoyment out of the pleasures of others than he did from 
any other source of amusement. 

About the famous Arlington spring he constructed several build- 
ings, among others a big kitchen and dining-room and a dancing 
pavilion, and these, with the beautiful grounds about them, he 
threw open to the picnic parties from Washington, Georgetown, 
and the country around. He built a wharf out into the river, and 
induced a small steamer, called the G. W. P. Custis, to make sev- 
eral trips daily to the spring. 

The spring at once became the most attractive spot in that 
section of the country, and a throng of people visited it daily. 
No intoxicating liquors were permitted on the premises, but, ex- 
cept in this particular, the visitors were entirely free from re- 
straint, and could go and come as they pleased. All Mr. Custis 
asked in return for his hospitality was the observance by his 
guests of the moral principles he upheld himself and a reciproca- 
tion of the kindly feeling that animated him. 

Every day during the pleasant weather Mr. Custis joined the 
merry-makers at the spring and frequently joined in the games of 
the children and the youthful people. Often he took with him 
his violin — for, with his other accomplishments, Mr. Custis was 
also something of a musician — and never were the dances so en- 
joyed or the fun gayer than when the host furnished the music 
with his own bow. 


These gatherings continued during every summer from the time 
of their commencement to the death of Mr. Custis, in 1857, and 
their popularity constantly increased. After Mr. Custis' death 
they ceased, the spring was abandoned, and now no vestige of the 
green lawns that were the scenes of former gayety can be found. 
The spring remains, but it is overgrown with bushes and weeds 
and is seldom approached, even by the negroes living in its vicin- 
ity. The river, too, has filled up at this point, and where once was 
navigable water is now but a marsh, covered thickly over with a 
luxuriant growth of marsh grass and rushes. 

The arrangement of the Custis house was as excellent as the 
regulations that ruled the life of its owner. A broad hallway runs 
through the centre of it, and upon this opened the rooms on either 
side. To the right, as you enter the building, was the large din- 
ning-room, with the butler's pantry in the rear. Across the hall 
were two large rooms used as parlors and sitting-rooms, and at 
the end of that wing of the building was Mr. Custis' library and 
study. A long, low wing that extends for forty or fifty feet to the 
right of the mansion was occupied by Mrs. Custis and her daughter. 
There they had their private sitting-rooms, their sewing-rooms 
and other apartments that make a home pleasant and comfortable 
to women. The sleeping apartments were all on the upper floors 
and they were large rooms, well lighted and ventilated by the large 
and numerous windows. The kitchen and quarters for the house 
servants were detached from the house, and were located in the 
two brick and stuccoed buildings, then, as now, at the end of the 

But the feature of Mr. Custis' house, in which he took great 
pride himself and which never failed to impress the visitor, was 
the collection of relics, both of Washington, and the ancestors of 
the Custis family, who preceded him. Of these relics, the por- 
traits he possessed were first in the matter of interest. They 
represented better than anything else could the men and women 
of the past and gave a clearer idea of their appearance than could 
have been obtained without their aid. 

One of the finest of these portraits was that of Col. Daniel 
Parke, painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller. It represented the gal- 
lant Colonel in a very rich court dress, and showed the medallion 
portrait of Queen Anne, which had been presented to Col. Parke 


by that gracious sovereign, on the occasion that he brought her 
information of Marlborough's victory at Blenheim. There was 
also a portrait of an old reformer, painted by Vandyke, which 
was very valuable. Near these two hung portraits of John Custis, 
who married Col. Parke's daughter, and of his son, John Parke 
Custis, the first husband of Mrs. Washington. The latter was 
painted by Woolloston, and beside it was an early portrait of Mrs. 
Washington, then Mrs. Custis, painted by the same artist. Mr. 
Custis possessed two other portraits of Mrs. Washington, taken 
from life, one an exquisitely wrought miniature, by Kobertson, 
painted in New York in 1791, and the other a profile in colored 
crayons by Sharpless. 

But it was to the portraits of Washington himself that Mr. 
Custis attached the most value. One of these, painted by Charles 
Wilson Peale in 1772, represented Washington as he appeared at 
forty years of age. He was dressed in the costume of a Virginia 
colonel of that day. Another portrait, by Sharpless, showing 
Washington's profile, was considered the best likeness of the 
patriot ever executed. There was also in the collection a paint- 
ing on copper showing the profiles of Washington and Lafayette 
side by side, in imitation of a medallion. This was painted by the 
Marchioness de Brienne, and presented by her to Washington in 
1789. There were also fine portraits of Nellie Custis, George 
Washington Lafayette, and of others, rendered famous by their 
association with Washington. 

Among the relics of Washington which Mr. Custis cherished 
were a sideboard, tea-table, and china punch-bowl, the latter a 
gift to Washington from the French naval ojficers ; the large lan- 
tern that had illuminated the hallway at Mount Vernon ; Washing- 
ton's silver tea set, including a massive tray or salver ; rich por- 
celain vases, mahogany chairs, several pieces of an elegant set of 
china, appropriately painted, and which were presented to Wash- 
ington by the Society of the Cincinnati ; part of another set pre- 
sented to Mrs. Washington by the French officers ; silver wine 
coolers and coasters ; a harpsichord, presented to Nellie Custis by 
Washington before her marriage to Lawrence Lewis ; massive silver 
candlesticks, with silver snuifers and extinguishers attached ; a 
mural candelabra ; the bed on which Washington died ; his war 
tent, and the portmanteau in which it was carried, and other mat- 
ters of minor interest. 


There was also Washington's camp-chest, and a smalFiron chest, 
in which Mrs. Washington had kept certificates for 30,000 pounds 
sterling, a part of the fortune she brought Washington when she 
married him. 

Not the least interesting of the pictures at Arlington were the 
battle scenes painted by Mr. Custis himself. These were princi- 
pally painted on the walls of the rooms, and, while very poor 
works of art, they represented with some accuracy the figures and 
costumes of Washington and others as they appeared during the 
stirring scenes of the Kevolution. There were five of these war 
scenes, and they represented, as near as Mr. Custis could make 
them, the battles of Monmouth, Trenton, Princeton, and German- 
town ; the surrender at Yorktown, and the surrender of the Brit- 
ish colors at the same place. In each of these Washington is the 
central figure. 

Painting these scenes was one of the pleasant diversions of Mr. 
Custis' later years, and after he had finished the pictures men- 
tioned he painted a number of hunting scenes. A remnant of one 
of these is still to be seen in the frieze about the vestibule at the 
rear entrance to the Arlington mansion. 

When the war broke out and the occupation of Arlington by 
Federal troops succeeded close upon the departure of Gen. 
and Mrs. Lee for the Confederate capital, all Mr. Custis' art and 
other treasures were scattered in every direction. 

Some of the Washington relics had been deposited by Mr. Cus- 
tis, previous to his death, with the Government, and now form the 
principal part of the Washington collection in the National Mu- 
seum. When they first came into the possession of the Govern- 
ment they were placed on exhibition in the museum of the Patent 
Office, where they remained until the establishment of the Na- 
tional Museum, in 1876. 

A number of the paintings were taken away from Arlington by 
Gen. and Mrs. Lee, and are still in the possession of the Lee 

A great many of the relics, however, were seized upon by the 
vandals who followed and accompanied the Union forces. Cups 
that had been used by Washington himself were hawked about 
the streets of the National Capital by peddlers. Negroes enjoy- 
ing newly-acquired liberty offered for sale articles the value of 


which would have purchased the seller at any time before the 
war, while soldiers with an appreciation of the character of the 
treasures they found upon the estate either purchased or pur- 
loined them as presents for wives and sweethearts in the distant 
northern States. Some of these scattered relics have since been 
collected, and are now either in the National Museum or at Mount 
Vernon, The Government has for years endeavored to secure 
every memorial of Washington that it can, and a number of the 
articles stolen or otherwise obtained from the Arlington house 
have since the war been purchased by those in charge of the 
National Museum. To many of these relics so acquired the heirs 
of Gen. E). E. Lee have laid claim, and the question of owner- 
ship is now pending in the civil courts. 

The articles in dispute, now in the possession of the Govern- 
ment, are not on exhibition, but are carefully stowed away in 
boxes, awaiting the courts' decision. 

While Mr. Custis' literary efforts have been mentioned fre- 
quently in the preceding pages, they really amounted to little of 
value, except for the recollections of Washington and the con- 
versations with Lafayette, which are almost invaluable to the 
student of the early history of the country. His work was gen- 
erally of the purposeless order, and very little of it has been 
preserved. He wrote poems and dramas for his own amusement 
and for the gratification of his friends. 

The following extract from a letter addressed to his wife, then 
on a visit to some of her relati"^s, in 1833, may give an idea of 
the manner in which Mr. Custis performed his literary feats : 

" I have made a great mental effort lately, but I am sure you 
and the Bishop will think my energies might have been better 

" I had promised the poor rogues of actors a play for the 12th 
of September, the anniversary of the battle of North Point, but 
finding myself not in the vein, I wrote to them to defer it. On 
Monday the 9th the manager came on from Baltimore, and 
entreated me to prepare something for the 12th, as it would put six 
or seven hundred dollars in his pocket. On Monday not a line 
was finished. At five o'clock I commenced and wrote until twelve ; 
rose the next morning at five and by seven sent off by the stages a 
two-act piece, Avith two songs and a finale, called North Point ; or. 


Baltimore Defended, the whole completed in nine hours. It is to 
be played to-night. To-morrow I shall hear of its success. The 
principal character is called Marietta. She runs away from her 
father disguised as a rifle boy, etc., etc." 

This letter not only shows the style of Mr. Custis' eflforts, but 
gives an amusing insight into the condition of the American 
drama at that time. A theatrical manager accepts a play written 
in nine hours and produces it two days after it is completed, and 
Mr. Custis, the author, waits complacently at Arlington for the 
Baltimore papers, which he is sure will contain an account of the 
unqualified success of his highly-wrought imaginings. 

A definite idea of Mr. Custis' home-life could hardly be obtained 
without some knowledge of the men and women who were his 
guests at Arlington. They were the descendants from the patriots 
of the Revolution, the representatives of the best families of Vir- 
ginia, and distinguished men, both old and young, from the 
National Capital. Mrs. Lewis, Custis' sister, before and after the 
death of her husband, was as much at Arlington as at her own 
home. The Masons, from their fine old mansion on what was then 
Mason's Island, but now is Analostan Island, and the more dis- 
tinguished family of old Col. Mason, of Gunston, near Mt. Yernon, 
were constant visitors. The Randolphs, the Fitzhughs, and scores 
of other well-known people in Virginia also found and appreciated 
the hearty welcome of the simple old man at Arlington. Henry 
Clay, Daniel Webster, and other statesmen were frequent guests, 
and amidst the throng, forming one of the conspicuous figures, 
was the then dashing and highly regarded young officer, Lieut. 
Robert E. Lee, of the United States Army. 




The advent of Robert E. Lee at Arlington marks the beginning 
of an important epoch in the history of the famous estate. From 
this time on the fine old mansion is as inseparably connected with 
recollections of the hero of the Confederacy as it is with those 
concerning Custis himself, and its transfer at the old man's death 
from the descendants of Martha Washington to those of Light 
Horse Harry Lee, of the Revolution, was but an advance in the 
direction of its high destiny. 

It was not, however, the beauty of Arlington, or its associations, 
that drew Lieut. Lee to the estate when he became a visitor there. 
Nor did the relics of Washington or the genial and admirable 
qualities of Mr. Custis play any very important part in attracting 
the young officer. His visits were, in fact, due principally to the 
presence in Arlington House of a very beautiful young lady, Miss 
Mary Custis, Mr. Custis' only child. Lieut. Lee's attentions were 
well received by Miss Custis, and on June 30, 1831, they were 
married in the main drawing-room of the Arlington Mansion, 
the room in which visitors are now requested to register their 
names. The marriage ceremony was witnessed by a large circle 
of guests, and was performed by the Rev. William Meade, after- 
wards bishop of Virginia. An amusing incident occurred at the 
wedding which has freqently been related. 

In the early evening, preceding the hour set for the wedding, 
while Rev. Mr, Meade was journeying towards Arlington, a heavy 
thunder-storm came up and thoroughly drenched the good clergy- 
man. When he arrived at the house he found the guests all wait- 
ing for him, impatient for the ceremony to begin. It was, of 
course, impossible for Mr. Meade to think of marrying any one 
while the clothes he wore were soaked with water. To obviate 
the difficulty, Mr. Custis attempted to supply him with a suit of 
his own. Unluckily for the fit of these garments, Mr. Custis was 
short and stout, the clergyman was tall and thin, and his appear- 


ance, when finally arrayed in them, was extremely ridiculous. 
However, the ample folds of the surplice covered all defects of 
raiment, and the guests generally were unaware of the awkward 
predicament of the dignified divine. 

The marriage of Lieut. Lee to the heiress of Arlington added 
to the gay ety of life on the estate. It was in the days before marriage 
journeys were fashionable, and the newly-married couple settled 
down to housekeeping in the good old style. Lieut. Lee had his 
estate at Stratford, left him by his father, to which he would have 
taken his bride, but the young lady preferred remaining at Arling- 
ton, and as Mr, Custis desired that the young people remain with 
him, they took up their abode there and made it their home at 
Mr. Custis' request, until his death, when the property passed 
into the possession of Col. and Mrs. Lee. 

The death of Mr. Custis occurred in 1857 and produced a 
marked sensation throughout the country. He was ill only a 
short time, but his disease was pulmonary pneumonia, and four 
days after he was compelled to take to his bed he expired. After 
a night of insensibility he roused himself, and, with that transient 
gleam of light that usually precedes dissolution, he embraced each 
member of his family and took leave of the old servant who 
attended him. He requested that his pastor be summoned, and 
when the clergyman arrived asked that those present join in a 
prayer for the dying. While the prayer was being offered he ex- 
pired. The funeral of Mr. Custis took place at Arlington and was 
attended by a vast concourse of people, in which were men of dis- 
tinction in every walk of life. The Mount Vernon Guards of 
Alexandria, the Association of Survivors of the War of 1812 of 
the District of Columbia, a delegation of the Jamestown Society, 
field and staff officers of the volunteer regiment, the Washington 
Light Infantry, and a delegation of the President's mounted troop, 
all travelled to Arlington to unite in the solemn testimonials of 

Mr. Custis' remains were interred in what was then a beautiful 
grave, a short distance from the mansion. They were laid beside 
those of his wife, whose death had occurred two years earlier, and 
over the two graves were erected monuments which still stand 
amidst the grave-stones that mark the resting-places of thousands 
of Federal soldiers, a link connecting the past age with the pres- 


ent. With the death of Mr. Custis all the vast estates he pos- 
sessed passed to his daughter, Mrs. Lee, and Arlington became 
the homestead of the Lees. 

It was not the intention of the writers to introduce into this 
volume any matter historical or otherwise that has no direct bear- 
ing upon the history of the estate or those who lived within its 
precincts, but a sketch of the life of Gen. E. E. Lee while he 
made his home at Arlington, together with some account of his 
distinguished ancestry, seems to be indispensable to the complete- 
ness of the work. 

While no additional lustre can be thrown on the achievements 
of Gen. Lee by any reference to his ancestry, it is worthy of 
remark that the family from which he sprung has an honorable 
place in the chronicles of every epoch of English history from the 
Norman invasion, and in the annals of the American colonial 
period from the time the family first appeared in this country. 

When William the Conqueror landed upon the shores of Britain 
and flung his armies of mailed knights against the opposing 
Saxons, Launcelot Lee was one of the party of nobles that formed 
his personal escort. On the field of Hastings he was one of the 
most distinguished of that band of invaders and performed such 
signal service for his king that he was rewarded with large estates 
in Essex. He became the founder of the family that bears his 

When the lion-hearted but erratic Bichard, more than a century 
later, in 1192, conducted the Third Crusade into the Holy Land, 
Lionel Lee was one of the many nobles that accompanied him. 
He rode at the head of a company of " gentlemen cavaliers," and 
displayed such gallantry and courage at the siege of Acre that he 
was made Earl of Litchfield, while another estate, afterwards 
called " Ditchley," was also bestowed upon him. In the Horse 
Armory of the Tower of London may still be seen the armor worn 
by Lionel Lee in this crusade. 

Two of the family were Knights-Companions of the Garter, and 
their banners, surmounted by the Lee arms, were placed in St. 
George's Chapel, at Windsor Castle. 

Sir Henry Lee was Knight of the Garter in the reign of Queen 
Elizabeth. The Earldom of Litchfield passed to the fifth baronet 
of his line in 1674. 


From Eichard Lee, a younger son of the house of Litchfield, 
the line of descent of Gen. Lee can be directly traced. This 
Richard Lee in 1641, during the reign of Charles I., came to America 
as colonial secretary under the governorship of Sir William Berke- 
ley. He was possessed of all those qualities which had made his 
family a line of commanders and soon obtained such influence 
over the colonists that Governor Berkeley, with his assistance, 
was able to keep Virginia firm in allegiance to the king and the 
loyalist party. When the second Charles was still in exile and 
without a kingdom, he was invited to come to Virginia and rule 
over his loving and devoted subjects in that colony. By reason 
of this act Virginia was styled, in a treaty made with the Com- 
monwealth forces, an " Independent Dominion," this being the 
origin of the sobriquet it has since borne, " the Old Dominion.'' 
The king showed his gratitude for the loyalty exhibited by the 
colony by ordering the arms of Virginia to be added to those of 
England, France, Ireland, and Scotland, with the motto, " Eu dat 
Yirginia guiniam." 

It will thus be seen that the Lees were at once and at this early 
period of history fully identified with the country of their adop- 

The county of Westmoreland, with its diversity of hill and dale, 
its mild climate, fertile soil, and attractive scenery, at an early 
period won the attention of the Washingtons, Fairfaxes, Lees, and 
other distinguished families, and they naturally established their 
homes in this attractive situation. Here they evinced many of 
the traits, characteristics, and customs of English society. 

Frequently they made the country ring with the merry sound 
of the horn and the hound as they swept through field and wood 
in pursuit of the wily fox or the bounding stag. In the life and 
habits of these people, and others of like descent and customs, was 
formed the germ of that martial spirit which characterizes what is 
called the " chivalry of Virginia." Gen. Lee himself as boy 
followed the chase for hours, not infrequently on foot, over hill 
and valley, laying the foundation of that vigor and robustness 
that enabled him so easily to overcome the fatigues and endure 
the hardships of war. 

Richard Lee, second son of the Richard above named, was born 
in Virginia in 1646, and after b^ng educated in law in England 


returned to Virginia and took an active part in colonial legisla- 
tion. His fourth son, Thomas Lee, was the first of the family to 
locate in Westmoreland county. He attained high distinction in 
America and England, and grew to be one of the most prominent 
men in the early history of Virginia, in which province he became 
successively president of the council and governor of the col- 
ony, being the first native-born American who held the latter 
office under the British Crown. In colonial history he is known 
as "President Lee." 

The fine mansion of Stratford, in Westmoreland coanty, the 
birthplace of Kobert E. Lee, two signers of the Declaration of 
Independence, and several other famous members of the family, 
was built for Thomas Lee by the East India Company, aided by 
an ample donation from the privy purse of Queen Caroline, his 
former residence having been burned. This structure, which is 
still standing, was built of bricks imported from England, in the 
substantial manner common in those days, the walls of the first 
story being two feet and a half thick, those of the second story 
two feet. It was even more spacious than the neighboring colo- 
nial mansions, containing in all nearly a hundred rooms. 

Thomas Lee died in 1756, leaving eight children — six sons and 
two daughters. Several of his sons occupied prominent places in 
the colonial history of America, while three of them, Richard 
Henry, Francis Lightfoot, and Arthur Lee, deserve particular 
mention from their connection with the American revolution. 

Richard Henry Lee was a member of the House of Burgesses 
of Virginia, and afterward became a distinguished member of the 
Continental Congress. He is best known as one of the great ora- 
tors of that period, and to him is due that stirring resolution of 
the 10th of June, 1776, which proclaimed to the world that Amer- 
ica was full grown and ready to take its allotted place in the family 
of nations — the resolution " that these United Colonies are, and 
of right ought to be, free and independent States ; that they are 
absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all 
political connection between them and Great Britain is, and ought 
to be, totally absolved." 

Francis Lightfoot Lee was also a member of the Continental 
Congress and was one of the signers of the Declaration of Inde- 
pendence ; while Arthur Lee was entrusted in the all-important, 
foreign mission on behalf of the new republic. 


Kobert E. Lee is descended directly from Eichard Lee of the 
second generation of the family in America, and the father of 
Thomas Lee just described. The descent is traced from Henry, 
the fifth son of Richard, and the direct ancestor of the subject of 
this story. 

Henry Lee occupied no prominent place in colonial history, his 
life being that of a student, though, like his brother, he occupied a 
place in the early councils of the colony. He married a Miss 
Bland and had three children. 

The second son, Henry, became a member of the House of Bur- 
gesses and took an active part in the exciting political events of 
the time. He was married in 1753 to Lucy Grymes, a descendant 
of General Thomas Grymes, of Cromwell's army. He left a large 
family, six sons and five daughters. The eldest son, who bore the 
name of his father, was born in 1756, near Dumfries on the Poto- 
mac, and was distinguished for the character of his services in the 
Revolutionary war, being best known by the dashing title he 
earned early in the war, "Light Horse Harry" Lee. 

He was the father of Robert E. Lee. 

At an early age this third Henry Lee in direct descent was 
sent to Princeton College, where he distinguished himself as a law 
student. On completing his studies here he was about starting 
for England when the outbreak of hostilities caused him to change 
his plans. He was then nineteen years of age. He abandoned 
his intention of going to England, and quickly raising a company 
of cavalry he joined Washington soon after the battle of Lexing- 
ton. His energy and ability soon earned him a high reputation, 
and he was speedily promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel 
and assigned the command of an independent corps composed of 
infantry and cavalry, and known as "Lee's Legion." His services 
were conspicuous during the war, and at the close of the Revolu- 
tion none had acquired a more permanent and deserved reputa- 
tion than " Light Horse Harry " Lee. About the year 1781 he 
was married to his cousin Matilda, daughter of Philip Ludwell 
Lee, by which marriage the homestead at Stratford came into his 

He was elected to Congress soon after the close of the war and 
afterwards became Governor of Virginia, to which office he was 
three times elected. 


During the year 1790 he lost his wife, who had borne him four 
children. These had all died except the eldest, Henry. After 
several years of retirement from public life he married Mrs. Anne 
Hill Carter, daughter of Charles Carter, of Shirley, by whom he 
had five children, Charles Carter Lee, of Powhattan ; Sidney 
Smith Lee, a commander in the United States Navy in 1860, and 
afterward in Confederate States Navy ; and Kobert E. Lee. The 
two daughters were Anne and Mildred. 

Robert Lee was born in the same room at Stratford in which 
were born Richard, Henry, and Francis Lightfoot Lee. 

Henry Lee in 1798 returned to public life and became a mem- 
ber of the General Assembly, and afterwards was re-elected to 

On the death of Washington he prepared the eulogy by direc- 
tion of Congress, in which occur the memorable words which have 
become indissolubly attached to the name of the hero of the Revolu- 
tion : " First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his coun- 

In 1811 he removed to Alexandria for the purpose of educating 
his children, and while here was offered and accepted a major- 
general's commission during the second war with England. At 
the close of the year 1817, declining health induced him to visit 
the West Indies, but obtaining no relief from the tropical climate 
he determined to return to his native home. Rapidly failing 
health on his return voyage caused him to direct his course to the 
coast of Georgia, where, at the home of the daughter of his old 
comrade, Gen. Greene, on Cumberland Island, he died after a 
short illness. 

His neglected grave is but a short distance from the now dis- 
mantled mansion, in a wildly overgrown garden of magnolias and 
sub-tropical shrubbery. 

Gen. Lee, as before stated, was born January 19, 1807, in 
the old manor-house at Stratford which came into the possession 
of his father through his marriage with his cousin, a member of 
the other branch of the Lees. The old mansion is best described 
in the language of Gen. R. E. Lee himself : 

" The approach to the house is on the south, along the side of 
a lawn, several hundred acres in extent, adorned with cedars, oaks, 
and forest poplars. On ascending a hill not far from the gate the 


traveller comes in full view of the mansion, when the road turns 
to the right and leads straight to a grove of sugar maples, around 
which it sweeps to the house. The edifice is built in the form of 
an H and of bricks brought from England. The cross furnishes 
a saloon of thirty feet cube, and in the centre of each wing rises 
a cluster of four chimneys which form the columns of two pavil- 
ions, connected by a balustrade. The owner, who, before the 
Eevolution, was a member of the King's Council, lived here in 
great state, and kept a band of musicians, to whose airs his 
daughters, Matilda and Flora, with their companions, danced in 
the saloon or promenaded on the house-top." 

Here young Lee lived until 1811, when his father removed to 
Alexandria to give his children the benefit of the educational ad- 
vantages offered by that town, then a thriving and prosperous 
municipality. The family lived on Cameron street, near the old 
Christ church, then on Orinoco street, and afterwards in the house 
known as the parsonage. The young lad's character was moulded 
by his mother, under whose sole influence he came during his boy- 
hood. His father was absent for long periods on duty as major- 
general in the American army, and in the later years of his life 
■engaged in a despairing search after the spirit of health that had 
forsaken him. Robert in these years became a familiar figure in 
the streets of the old Virginia town, where he formed many life- 
long friendships. He was devoted to his invalid mother, and be- 
stowed upon her the most faithful care and attention and made 
her welfare the chief object of his thoughts. He was a thoughtful, 
■earnest youth and spent his hours out of school at his mother's 

When he entered school at Alexandria he had as his first teacher 
an Irish gentleman, William B. Leary, who, even before his famous 
pupil had become in any way distinguished, held him up to the 
boys that came after him as a model student. His early education 
ivas obtained from Mr. Leary, under whose tuition he remained 
until it was decided that he should go to West Point. 

He then took a preparatory course under Mr. Benjamin Hal- 
lowell, a famous teacher of mathematics in Alexandria. In 1825, 
when he was eighteen years of age, he entered the Military Academy 
at West Point, where he remained four years, graduating in 1829 at 
the head of his class. At the time of Lee's marriage to Miss Cus- 


tis he had been an officer of the United States Army for two years. 
The high honors he had secured as a student at the Military Acad- 
emy caused his assignment to the engineer corps, then, as now, the 
highest branch of the service, and his first mihtary duty was in 
connection with that corps. He was first ordered to Cockspur 
Island, near Savannah, but after his marriage was sent to Old 
Point, where he remained until 1835. In that year he was ap- 
pointed assistant astronomer to mark out the boundary line be- 
tween Ohio and Michigan, and as a result of this service he wa& 
promoted to the rank of captain. Capt. Lee was stationed for the 
next two years in Washington, as assistant to Chief Engineer Gra- 
tiot. During this time he lived at Arlington and might have been 
seen morning and evening of each pleasant day riding along Penn- 
sylvania avenue, on his way between his Virginia home and the War 
Department. While in Washington he numbered among his asso- 
ciates Lieuts. J. E. Johnston and M. C. Meigs, one of whom wa& 
in later years his most trusted confidant, the other his most im- 
placable enemy. At that time, however, they were all good friends, 
and in 1837, when Capt. Lee was ordered to take charge of the 
engineering operations in the Mississippi, Lieut. Meigs went along 
as his assistant. The work which was entrusted to Capt. Lee at 
this time was of a very important character and its completion 
was not only regarded as an important engineering achievement, 
but rendered possible the present city of St. Louis. St. Louis 
was at the time threatened with a serious disaster from the deflec- 
tion of the main current of the Mississippi to the Illinois side and 
the danger of its cutting a new channel through the bottom lands. 
Sand bars were forming along the city's entire river front and 
threatened to interfere with, if not to ruin altogether, its harbor. 
In addition to remedying this, Capt. Lee was instructed to make 
surveys and plans for improving the river where the Des Moine& 
river enters it from the west, and about the mouth of the Rock 
river, which enters from the east. At both these points the river 
flowed over ledges of rock, with a narrow and tortuous channel, 
and during the season of low water all steamboats were obliged to 
discharge at least a part of their cargoes in order to get through. 
After working with his party for several months Capt. Lee made 
up his report and it was submitted to Congress by the Secretary 
of War. He recommended the improvement of the two rapids by 


the straightening and widening of the channels and bj blasting 
and moving the rocks that obstructed navigation. In regard to 
St. Louis, he recommended the proper course of the dykes to de- 
flect the currents and to close at low water the eastern or Illinois 
channel by connecting Bloody Island with the eastern shore. 
Upon these recommendations Congress continued for a number 
of years to make the necessary appropriations for the execution 
of the work, and a portion of it was accomplished under Capt. 
Lee's supervision. A good description of Gen. Lee, as he im- 
pressed others at this time, was written by Gen. Meigs. Gen. 
Meigs wrote of him : 

" He was a man then in the vigor of youthful strength, with a 
noble and commanding presence, and an admirable, graceful, and 
athletic figure. He was one with whom nobody ever wished or 
ventured to take a liberty, though kind and generous to his subor- 
dinates, admired by all women and respected by all men. He 
was the model of a soldier and the beau ideal of a Christian 

Capt. Lee continued to render valuable services to his govern- 
ment as an engineer, a portion of the time at Fort Hamilton, in 
New York harbor, and at other points, until the breaking out of 
hostilities between the United States and Mexico. During these 
years, so well employed, he was for a time one of the board of 
visitors to the Military Academy at West Point, and did much to 
improve the course of training at that institution. 

With every branch of work to which he had been assigned, 
with every difficult operation he had undertaken, Capt. Lee 
proved himself an officer of remarkable ability, unswerving in 
his devotion to duty, and he was rapidly pressing forward to 
the very foremost rank of distinction and honor in military 

The commencement of the Mexican war opened a wider field 
for the exercise of his abilities as a military engineer and offered 
his first opportunity for that practical education in the art of war 
which was afterward to bear such abundant fruit. No officer who 
participated in the campaign in Mexico achieved more distinc- 
tion or rendered more valuable service than did Capt. Lee. He 
was assigned to Gen. Wool's command at the opening of the 
war and remained with it until after the battle of Buena Vista, in 


which Gen. Taylor with a force of 5,000 men put to rout Santa 
Anna's force of 20,000 men, when, at the request of Gen. Scott, 
Lee joined his army in the neighborhood of Tampico. 

On the 9th of March, 1847, Gen. Scott landed his army of 
12,000 men a short distance south of Vera Cruz, and laid siege 
to the city. It was strongly fortified by walls, and defended by 
a powerful fortress, the castle of San Juan de Ulloa, garrisoned 
by 5,000 men and containing 400 heavy guns. The establish- 
ment of batteries and the arrangement of all the other engineering 
details of the siege were directed by Capt. Lee, and so well was. 
his work performed that on the 22d it had been completed, and 
on the 29th the city surrendered. Having gained by the capture 
of Vera Cruz a secure base of operations. Gen. Scott advanced 
on the city of Mexico. Santa Anna with a strong force took up 
a position on the National Road at Cerro Gordo, where he so 
strongly entrenched himself that further advance was impossible, 
while battle in so disadvantageous a position would have been 
sure to result disastrously for the American forces. Capt. Lee 
was therefore sent out to make reconnoissances, and at the end 
of the third day a passage for light batteries was accomplished 
around Santa Anna's entire army without alarming it. This ren- 
dered possible the turning of the extreme left of the enemy's line 
of defence, and capturing his entire army. A large force wa& 
sent along the route, thus made passable by Capt. Lee, and it had 
gained a position from which it was able to storm the heights of 
Cerro Gordo, and rout the entire Mexican army before it was 
discovered. For his services on this occasion and also at Vera 
Cruz, Capt. Lee was highly praised in the reports of the com- 
mander-in-chief. In the engagement at San Augustin, and Con- 
treras which followed, Capt. Lee again distinguished himself by 
his courage and sagacity. 

The Mexicans occupied a very strong position, while the Amer- 
icans were obliged to advance over a region of country so broken 
that horses could hardly keep a foothold. Pillow's and Twiggs' 
divisions were sent forward and with them went Capt. Lee. They 
started from San Augustin, where Gen. Scott had his head- 
quarters, and by night they had fought their way over the broken 
ground to Contreras. There a council of war was held, which 
was counselled by Capt. Lee, and the plan of future operations- 


decided upon at his suggestion. When the council closed, Capt. 
Lee announced his intention of returning to San Augustin to re- 
port the conclusions of the meeting to Gen. Scott. A more hazard- 
ous undertaking than this could hardly have been conceived of. It 
was night and the darkness was intensified by a severe rain-storm, 
which was pouring its torrents upon the heroic band of American 
soldiers. The country lying between Contreras and San Augus- 
tin was almost impassable in the daytime, while, to add to the 
danger, the American forces were almost completely hemmed in 
by Mexican troops. Notwithstanding these difficulties, however, 
Capt. Lee persisted in his determination, and without a com- 
panion or a light made the journey so fraught with danger, and 
arrived in safety at Gen. Scott's camp. His achievement 
called forth from Gen. Scott the highest commendation, and 
the whole American army applauded the gallant conduct of the 
daring officer. 

As a result of Capt. Lee's prompt report, Gen. Scott ad- 
vanced his entire army under Capt. Lee's guidance, and at day- 
light an attack upon the enemy's strongholds was made. In the 
battle Lee again distinguished himself, and so well planned was 
the attack he had rendered possible, that in just seventeen minutes 
the Mexicans were driven from their works and were in full re- 

In all the subsequent events of the war Lee played a promi- 
nent part, gradually rising in the esteem of his commanders, of 
his brother ofl&cers, and in his rank in the service. One promo- 
tion followed another in rapid succession, and after the brilliant 
charge at Chapultepec, in which he was severely wounded, he re- 
ceived the rank of brevet colonel. He was Gen. Scott's favor- 
ite officer, and so well had he earned the favor shown him, that 
his fellow-soldiers applauded their commander for his recognition 
of Lee's brilliant services. 

When peace between the United States and Mexico had been 
established by the conclusion of the treaty negotiations. Col. 
Lee returned home with the victorious army and was again as- 
signed to duty in the corps of engineers. He was engaged in the 
construction of fortifications at Sailers Point, near Baltimore, at 
Hampton Roads, and in New York harbor until 1852, when he 
was appointed superintendent of the U. S. Military Academy at 


West Point. He occupied this position until 1855, when he was 
promoted to a command in the cavalry branch of the service, and, 
as colonel of the Second cavalry, was placed in charge of the de- 
partment of Texas. At this time Texas and the country adjoin- 
ing was overrun by bands of hostile Indians, who let no oppor- 
tunity escape to massacre and rob the settlers whenever the latter 
ventured beyond the protecting arm of the military. To keep 
these maurauders in subjection and to protect the settlers, was 
the duty which now devolved upon Gen. Lee and his small 
command. Bloody engagements were frequent between the troops 
and the savages, and as hard a campaign of frontier warfare as 
any in the history of the country was carried on. 

In these campaigns he was engaged until within a short time of 
the breaking out of the Civil war. It is a matter worthy of note 
that while in his earlier career Col. Lee had been intimately asso- 
ciated with such ofl&cers as Meigs, Beauregard, McClellan, and 
others, who afterwards achieved great distinction, in his Indian 
wars he had as officers of his command Johnson, Hardee, 
Thomas, Yan Dorn, Hood, Fitz Lee, Stoneman, Kirby Smith, 
and Fields, all of whom became general officers in either the Con- 
federate or Federal service during the Civil war. While at Camp 
Cooper, Texas, in 1857, Col. Lee received notice by telegraph of 
the death of his wife's father, G. W. P. Custis, and at once has- 
tened to Arlington. He returned to Texas, however, and re- 
mained there until the state of excitement prevailing throughout 
the country rendered, in the opinion of the War Department, his 
presence at the National Capital necessary. 

Although Col. Lee had been very actively engaged in the serv- 
ice of his country, while the discordant elements throughout the 
North and South were fomenting the difficulties surrounding the 
slave question until the land was overcast with the shadows of 
threatening clouds of civil war, he had, notwithstanding, found 
time to watch with ever-increasing anxiety the formation of the 
breach between the sections. 

Though opposed to the institution of slavery, which he regarded 
as a moral and political evil, he was of the unalterable opinion 
that the matter was one that under the Constitution the States 
had the right to regulate for themselves, and he denied absolutely 
the right of the non-holding slave States to interfere. He be- 


lieved the emancipation of tlie negroes would sooner result from 
the mild and melting influences of Christianity than from the 
storm and tempest of fiery controversy. He was too much of a 
patriot to believe that the country could possibly be disrupted 
over the question, but he saw with feelings of the gravest appre- 
hension that it was, as he expressed it, rushing rapidly towards 
the verge of anarchy or civil war. 

Having been recalled to Washington, Lee took up his residence 
at Arlington, and was there when the John Brown raid on Harper's 
Ferry occurred. He was at once summoned to Washington by 
the Secretary of War and directed to take command of a battalion 
of marines and proceed to the scene of the outbreak. 

When he arrived at Harper's Ferry he found Brown and his 
followers located in the Government building closely besieged by 
the militia troops that had assembled there. Col. Lee stationed 
his troops around the building and sent Lieut. J. E. B. Stuart 
with a flag of truce to demand the surrender of the insurgents. 

On their refusal to capitulate Col. Lee charged the building 
with his men, broke open the door, and released the citizens who 
had been imprisoned as hostages by Brown, before any of them 
could be injured. In the fight all the insurgents but Brown and 
three others were killed, while Lee's small command also suffered 
a considerable loss. But for the protection afforded Brown by 
Col. Lee, he would in all probability have been lynched by the in- 
dignant citizens of Harper's Ferry. Lee, however, held him as a 
prisoner, and as such turned him over to the civil authorities. 

After this service Col. Lee returned to Texas, where for the 
next year he watched with growing uneasiness the discord be- 
tween the North and South. 

Events now crowded upon each other with such rapidity that 
there could no longer be any doubt that civil war was to be the 
final result and that the conflict was irrepressible and inevitable. 
The election of Mr. Lincoln in 1860 spread consternation through- 
out the South, and a similar degree of excitement prevailed in the 
North when the delegates from the Soutliern States withdrew in 
a body from the Congress of the United States. 

Then followed the secession of South Carolina, and in Febru- 
ary of 1861 the seven cotton States united themselves into an in- 
dependent republic, and demanded the surrender of Fort Sum- 


ter, at Montgomery, Alabama. Following this, and thrilling the 
country with the intelligence that civil war, cruel and relentless, 
was on at last, came the news of Sumter's bombardment and 
surrender. The fortress fell beneath the fearful fire of shot and 
shell from the Confederate batteries on April 13, and on April 
15 President Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 
volunteers. Just two days later the convention of Virginia passed 
the ordinance of secession, and the entire country was involved 
in the greatest civil strife the world has ever seen. In all this 
preparation for war. Col. Lee was recalled from Texas, and on 
March 1, 1861, he arrived in Washington in response to an order 
issued by the War Department. 

It had been Col. Lee's intention at this time, in case Yirginia 
were not involved in the struggle for State's rights, to retire to his 
home at Arlington, and there sheathe his sword forever, rather than 
take part in so unnatural a war as that between the States of so 
great a union. ^The secession of Yirginia cast the die for him, 
however, and without hesitation he joined his fortunes with those 
of the Southern Confederacy. 

His final decision was not reached without severe mental 
trouble nor without efforts on the part of the Government to pre- 
serve his highly valued services to the Federal army. He was 
offered positions of the highest importance and honor, and was 
indirectly promised the position of Commander-in-chief of the 
Union forces. This offer was made him by Francis Preston Blair, 
the father of Montgomery Blair, then Postmaster -General. Mr. 
Blair, during their interview, informed Col. Lee that he had been 
sent by President Lincoln and he inquired whether any induce- 
ment would prevail upon Lee to take command of the Union 
army. Lee replied that to lift his hand against his native State 
would be impossible. 

Immediately after this interview Col. Lee went to the office of 
Gen. Scott, to whom he related what had transpired. Then he re- 
turned to Arlington, and after two days spent in a severe mental 
struggle to determine on which side his duty lay, he concluded to 
resign his commission in the army. His letter of resignation was 
written at Arlington, on Saturday, April 20, and is as follows : 


Aelington, Va., April 20, 1861. 
Genebal : Since my interview with you on the 18th inst. I have felt that I 
ought not longer to retain my commission in the army. I therefore tender my 
resignation, which I request you will recommend for acceptance. It would have 
been presented at once but for the struggle it has cost me to separate myself from 
a service to which I have devoted all the best years of my life and all the ability I 
possessed. During the whole of that time — more than a quarter of a century — I 
have experienced nothing but kindness from my superiors and a most cordial 
friendship from my comrades. To no one. General, have I been as much indebted 
as to yourself for uniform kindness and consideration, and it has always been my 
ardent desire to merit your approbation. I shall carry to the grave the most 
grateful recollections of your consideration, and your name and fame will be al- 
ways dear to me. Save in the defence of my native State, I never desire again to- 
draw my sword. Be pleased to accept my most earnest wishes for the continu- 
ance of your happiness and prosperity, and believe me most truly yours, 

R. E. LiEE. 

This letter, though written on the 20th, was not sent to Gen. 
Scott until Monday, the 22d. On the same day Col. Lee, with 
Mrs. Lee and their children, left Arlington for Richmond, never 
to return. On the day following, Tuesday, the 23d of April, Lee 
accepted the position of Commander-in-chief of the forces of 




Three days after the Lee family left Arlington the first battal- 
ions of the great army of the North swept into the District of 
Columbia, and the first camp-fires were lighted among the oaks 
of Arlington. 

The place was found just as it had been left. John McQuin, a 
faithful overseer of the family, remained in charge of the house 
and grounds, and every morning the great doors of the mansion 
were flung open in hospitable welcome, and at night closed and 
barred with the same scrupulous care that had attended this for- 
mal ceremony when the occupants of the house had retired to 
their rooms, in the uneventful days before the clarion trump of 
war had sounded the death of tranquillity and domesticity in 

When the armed troops swarmed up the Arlington hillsides 
they found the house open to them, the walks cleaned, the gardens 
cleared and trimmed, as though the master of the house were yet 
within to give them welcome. When they tramped into the echo- 
ing rooms they found none to receive them, and as they rum- 
maged from cellar to garret the loved treasures of Washington 
were taken out and divided among the recruits, who knew not but 
that they were the possessions of Lee himself and so felt no com- 
punctions upon carrying them ofif as trophies of war. 

The mansion itself became the headquarters of the commanders 
of the troops quartered on the grounds, and soon long lines of 
tents forming company streets had sprung up all over the hillsides 
and out over the level plateau to the south. Drills by battalions 
and regiments were held daily and soon the place had seemingly 
lost its identity in the great transformation that had been wrought. 

The ancient stately manse that had formerly known no harsher 
sounds than the strains of sweet music or the prattle of children 
in innocent frolic, now resounded with the clank of sabre and 
accoutrements and the heavy tread of cavalry-booted officers. 


The quiet, gentle life the place had formerly known gave way to 
the abrupt roughness of a military camp. Mud-bespattered 
orderlies dashed through the quiet, shaded avenues, and the 
smooth, level lawns were trampled into clayey plains by bands of 
wandering recruits. All the boundaries, garden plats, and smooth 
reaches of green turf that in times of peace were preserved in- 
violate by a natural respect for order and beauty were swept 
away, and even the gradually descending terraces were broken 
down and became but ragged embankments. 

The place was never again to bear the loved title and beautiful 
name of " home." From this time until the war was ended 
Arlington remained in the possession of the military and was 
destined to ultimately receive to its kindly bosom, in the lethean 
caress of death, many of the brave lads that had so cheerfully and 
with such high hopes and ambitions first spread their tents amid 
its forests. 

Early in the war "Washington became the hospital base for all 
the section of the country surrounding, and thousands of wounded 
soldiers from the neighboring battle-fields were carried there by 
train and boat, as well as the many unused to the hardships and 
privations of warfare, who sickened in camp and on the field. In 
1864 there were fift^-six hospitals in Washington, from St. Eliz- 
abeth's Asylum just across the Eastern Branch of the Potomac to 
the tents at Arlington. Private dwellings, warehouses, churches, 
and schools were converted into hospitals, and throughout Wash- 
ington the groans of thousands of wounded heroes floated on the 
misery-laden air. The intertwined serpents and the green stripes 
and chevrons were the insignia most familiar to Washingtonians, 
for the surgeon and his staff everywhere had precedence. 

On the hills of Arlington the long canvas shelters hemmed in 
the mansion on every side. The house itself was early in the 
war occupied by the officers of Fort Whipple, a garrison located 
on the hiUs west of Arlington, and was later shared with officers 
of Fort McPherson, an earthwork thrown up by McClellan a 
short distance south of the mansion. The surgeon's staff of the 
hospital corps also established headquarters here. 

The great oaks immediately surrounding the house were pre- 
served from destruction, and, under their grateful shade, stretched 
away long lines of white tents, sheltering the suffering victims of 


the rebellion's battles. Soft, whispering breezes crept through the 
long cathedral-like aisles of oak and elm, touching with pitying 
caress alike the brow of the childish recruit and the aged veteran. 
Death dwelt amid these tents and daily reaped a greater harvest 
than is yielded in a great city in many months. To many he 
came as a white-winged messenger of love and pity, bringing 
blessed surcease from pain and torture almost unbearable. Army 
ambulances, converted into hearses by the simple expedient of 
painting them a sombre black, passed about the city at all hours 
of the day and night garnering the harvest of death. From the 
hospitals in the city and from those without the bodies of the 
dead were taken to the Soldiers' Home Cemetery, then the only 
military cemetery in Washington. 

Early in the spring of 1864 the interments made here had ex- 
hausted every available inch of space. Over 8,000 soldiers who 
had died in the hospitals in and about Washington had been 
buried in the cemetery, and in May those in charge reported that 
but a few more bodies could be interred, and the cemetery would 
then of necessity have to be closed and the further issue of burial 
permits denied. 

By this time the disposal of the bodies of those who died at 
Washington became a serious problem. Gen. M. C. Meigs, then 
Quartermaster-General of the United States Army, was a man of 
infinite resources ; but taxed to the utmost by the constant de- 
mands made upon on all sides he had but little attention to 
bestow upon these seemingly minor questions. The proper and 
decent burial of all Union soldiers who died in service he recog- 
nized, however, as being of the greatest importance. Throughout 
the North there existed a belief, unfounded on facts, but strong 
among the masses, that the Union dead were carelessly and irrev- 
erently buried. This feeling engendered great bitterness among 
the very classes from which Gen. Meigs felt must come the bone 
and sinew of the Union Army. The eifect of this growing feeling 
he did not attempt to underestimate, and the news coming at this 
time that there was no available ground in which to inter the 
bodies of those then dying in the near-by hospitals caused him to 
lay aside for a time his other pressing duties to devote his atten- 
tion entirely to this engrossing problem. He had several confer- 
ences with Secretary of War Stanton, who requested him to take 


immediate steps to quell the feeling arising in the North, and to 
provide, at any cost, adequate burial facilities. 

Late in the afternoon on the 13th of May, 1864, Gen. Meigs 
left his office in the old War Department building, and buried in 
deep thought walked over into the grounds surrounding the White 
House, intent only on thinking out solutions to some of the many 
problems with which he had to contend. With eyes bent on the 
ground and enwrapped in thought he was just passing the White 
House portico when he was hailed by a familiar voice. 

" Step in here, Meigs, and take a drive with me," said the Pres- 
ident, " you look tired and worn out ; you need a rest." 

Gen. Meigs looked up quickly and saw the honest rugged face 
of Lincoln, lit by a half smile, more serious than mirthful. 

Two iron grays stood pawing, restlessly impatient, and the soft 
cushions of the victoria looked invitingly comfortable. The Pres- 
ident threw open the low door and the Quartermaster-General 
entered the vehicle. A moment later the team clattered down the 
driveway and the carriage whirled rapidly away toward George- 

The street over which they passed was not the smooth, asphalted 
thoroughfare of to-day, but a rough, uneven dirt road, sending up 
great clouds of dust in dry weather, and changing to one vast pool 
of mud throughout its entire length during the rainy season. 
Over this miserable roadway, fronted upon but by few houses in 
the long stretch from the White House to Georgetown, rolled the 
coach of the President. In a few minutes the town across the 
creek was reached, and the heavy vehicle rumbled over a very supe- 
rior quality of cobble-paving, for Georgetown was far in advance 
of the Capital in some respects. Past century-old houses with 
whose histories the names of the nation's greatest men are linked ; 
past the old Keys mansion, where dwelt the poet who has given 
us our most stirring national hymn, and out upon the Aqueduct 
clattered the spirited team. The two silent men, absorbed in their 
own thoughts, had talked but little ; but now as the beauty of the 
scene, spread out in prospect, burst upon them they lapsed into 
absolute silence. The restive pair, held down to a walk, drew 
frettingly upon check and rein, and tos«ed their proud heads and 
champed with impatience upon their bits. 

Toward the east there rose no magic city, robed in imperial 


beauty, unequalled in the wide world, sucli as now greets the sight, 
A few miserable scattered hovels ; here and there unsightly masses 
of masonry, the beginnings of great results in architecture, as yet 
inchoate and undefined, and the one great achievement of genius 
and art, the huge white dome of the Capitol, alone gave faint 
promise of the magnificent development of later years. 

Toward the south and west, however, they gazed upon the same 
scenes that are presented to-day. Above the bridge, wooded 
hills, rocky islets, and the Chain Bridge, a noted strategic point 
in the earlier days of the war. Off to the south the forested is- 
land home of Gen. Mason, the last of a long colonial line,, 
whose direct ancestors were daily visitors at Mount Vernon, and 
among Washington's dearest friends. This old mansion, of little 
beauty but of great strength of masonry and thick beams, is in- 
timately connected with the classically beautiful mansion-house 
at Arlington, for between Gen. Mason and Mr. Custis there 
existed the most cordial friendship, and the two estates were one 
in all but boundaries. Over the oak-crowned hills of Mason Is- 
, land Mr. Custis hunted with gun and hound, and at Arlington 
Gen. Mason was ever an honored guest. 

The old mansion of the Masons is now in ruins, and the family 
is remembered only by the name the island once bore in the. long 
ago, before the more beautiful Indian name it now bears was be- 
stowed upon it. 

Past Mason Island then, now Analostan Island, the carriage 
whirled rapidly along toward the camp at Arlington. On every 
hand sentinels saluted with presented pieces, and groups of strol- 
ling soldiers of all branches of the army paused and gazed wonder- 
ingly at the two men in the carriage. Arrived at the mansion- 
house at Arlington, the President alighted and started out for a 
stroll among the tents and across the lower portion of the estate 
to Fort McPherson, whose grim embankments crowned by frown- 
ing cannon arose from the level plateau stretching away toward 
the south. 

These drives into the surrounding country were of frequent 
occurrence with President Lincoln, who took this means of throw- 
ing aside for a brief period the burdens of his position. After a 
day of trouble and turmoil in the White House, beset on all sides 
by clamors for advice or assistance, keyed to the highest tension 


by news from the seat of war, and by a full knowledge of the vast 
responsibilities devolving upon him, he was able at the end of the 
day to relax the tension and recuperate for another day of great 
effort by dropping entirely his character of Chief Magistrate and 
becoming again the genial, hearty, unaffected citizen. Gen. Meigs, 
however, did not possess the power to apply in similar manner the 
principles of the conservation of energy, and the difference in the 
temperament of the two men was shown strikingly in this case. 
Gen. Meigs had no sooner alighted than he began to busy himself 
in the affairs under the charge of his office at Arlington. He was 
in a few minutes deeply engaged in a conference with the corps of 
surgeons in charge of the hospital tents, and was more strongly 
than ever convinced of the necessity for immediate action in regard 
to the proper sepulture of the army's dead. After an hour, how- 
ever, nothing had been accomplished and, the President having 
returned, the two men prepared to drive back to the city. 

As they stood on the terrace in front of the mansion, awaiting 
the arrival of the carriage, both men were struck with the glorious 
natural beauty of the panorama spread out before them. From the 
placid shimmering bosom of the Potomac they turned their gaze 
across the broad level basin in which the Capital City lies and 
absorbed the beauty of the distant Maryland hills, clad in a man- 
tle of changing tints of red and gold, as the last rays of the setting 
sun touched tenderly the sturdy forests that clothed their sides. 

While the soft eventide breathed only peace and tenderness. 
Gen. Meigs' thoughts were keyed to harsher feelings. He 
dwelt reminiscently upon the long months spent in brotherly 
companionship with the absent Lee, but with retrospection the 
present grew clearer and a hatred and aversion for his former 
chum grew in his heart. While Lee had espoused the cause of 
the Confederacy, he had enlisted heart and brain in the active 
service of the North, and as the weary years of the war length- 
ened and the end came not in sight, all soft impulses died out of 
him, and there came instead the implacable feeling of bitterest 
enmity against the South and Southerners. To him the word 
" rebel " was synonymous with all that was base and treacherous, 
and the act of renunciation had to him cancelled all the good and 
noble qualities his young manhood's chum had possessed. He 
was angered at the happiness Lee must have experienced 


amid the beautiful surroundings of Arlington, and in his mind a 
resolution at once took tangible form. 

" Lee shall never return to Arlington," he said abruptly, turn- 
ing to the President. " No matter what the issue of the war may 
be, the arch-rebel shall never again enjoy the possession of these 

The President smiled good humoredly at the feeling words of the 
Quartermaster-General, and would have made some reply had not 
the attention of the men at that moment been called to a sad 
procession that passed within a few feet of them. On common 
canvas stretchers, borne by members of a detailed squad, were 
the bodies of several unfortunates who had died in the hospital 
tents. They were being carried to the lower part of the grounds 
to await the coming of the burial squad to convey them to the 
already overcrowded Soldiers' Home Cemetery. Stopping the 
sergeant in command of the squad, Gen. Meigs asked, " How 
many men are there awaiting burial here ? " •' With these, a dozen, 
sir," answered the sergeant ; " no bodies have been taken away 
during the week." 

" Set down the stretchers," commanded the Quartermaster- 
General, and then, turning to a commissioned ofl&cer standing near, 
he said : " Captain, order out a burial squad and see that ail the 
bodies at Arlington are buried on the place at once." Then 
walking a few paces away he pointed out the slight terrace 
bordering the garden of the mansion, " Bury them there," he 

The officer saluted and disappeared. The carriage of the 
President, which had drawn up a few minutes before, was stand- 
ing ready, and President Lincoln and Gen. Meigs entered and 
were driven rapidly back to Washington. 

A few minutes later a squad, in charge of a corporal, came 
quickly up the broad driveway in front of the mansion, with 
picks and shovels, and, stopping at the place indicated by Gen. 
Meigs, began at once the work of preparing the shallow re- 
ceptacles that were to contain the remains of their dead fellows. 
Places for twelve graves were marked out about a dozen yards 
south of the house, and soon the yellow mounds of moist earth 
began to rise at the sides of the narrow pits. 

In half an hour the labor was completed, and as the last of the 


clay-soiled workers emerged from the grave he had made and 
joined his comrades, a sombre black ambulance doing duty as a 
hearse and bearing within its gloomy interior the bodies of those 
who had died at Arlington drove slowly up the driveway. The 
bodies were in black pine coffins, and as the hearse halted they 
Tvere quickly drawn forth and placed beside the graves that were 
to contain them. 

The sun that but a short time before had blazed out .behind the 
western hills and had massed the low hanging clouds into vast 
banks of glowing crimson, seen in brilliant glory through the 
black broad oaks of Arlington, was now low out of sight, and the 
early evening came on with the many noises of night, and the cool, 
steely blue of the nocturnal heaven had killed out the warm reful- 
gent glow of the dying day. Darkness was coming on quickly, 
and down in the deep woods to the north the great flocks of crows 
liad settled into quietness aud harmony, announcing their pres- 
ence only by an occasional discordant cawing. From the mansion 
came the chaplain, an elderly ecclesiast who, with more feeling 
than was common, read a burial service over the twelve bodies 
lying before him. The bodies were then quickly placed in the 
rude graves and the heavy lumps of clay thumped upon the lids 
with a dull monotonous regularity until there remained only twelve 
ghastly yellow mounds standing out sharply from the green lawn. 
The members of the squad shouldered their implements and were 
a few seconds later swallowed up in the grim forbidding forest 
that now loomed out in black massiveness about the mansion. 

The first interment of Union dead had been made at Arlington. 



In this manner, on the 13th of May, 1864, the national ceme- 
tery at Arlington was established. Gen. Meigs, by his decisive 
action, not only provided for the proper sepulture of the dead he- 
roes of the Federal cause, but at the same time carried into effect 
his resolution to tear from the possession of the Confederate 
leader the beautiful estate that had been his home. 

He knew that the united sentiment of the great North would 
never permit the desecration of the graves by the disinterment of 
the Union dead, and for this reason he ordered the first burials to 
be made around the edge of the garden near the house, in order 
to prevent any section of the grounds from being set aside for 
cemeterial purposes after the war, and, being thus cut off from 
the house and surrounding acres, to allow the latter to again be 
occupied by the Lee family or any of its members. It is an ill 
wind, however, that blows no good to any one, and Gen. Meigs 
by this bit of retributive malice secured to his country a monu- 
ment to the martyrs who died " in the blue " that will endure 
when tablets of brass and shafts of granite shall have mouldered 
into dust. The everlasting hills, the groves of oak and elm will 
stand for centuries, nature's vast memorial cathedral, amid whose 
leafy aisles the errant wind shall murmur eternally a sad requiem ,^ 
or in fiercer blast a jubilant psean of martial glory. 

The most striking fact in connection with the first burial at 
Arlington was that the first man interred was a rebel prisoner, 
L. Reinhardt, of the 23rd North Carolina regiment, who was taken 
captive in one of the battles about Washington and who died of 
his wounds in one of the Arlington hospital wards. His was the 
grave nearest the house and the first over which the few words of 
the brief burial service were read. His interment was registered 
as the first in a cemetery where now 16,000 bodies lie. The 
second interment on the register is that of Edward S. Fisher, a 
sergeant of Company " D," 40th New York infantry regiment. 


Thus the wearers of blue and gray dissolved all differences in 
death and lay down to their long sleep indifferent to the success 
alike of North or South. 

These first graves were not allowed to remain unmolested, for 
after the Secretary of War had approved the action of the Quarter- 
master-General,, and ordered that the grounds should be used 
thenceforth for cemeterial purposes, these first buried bodies were 
reinterred in the lower cemetery marked section "A" on the map 
of Arlington, and the bodies of commissioned officers were buried 
along the terrace. 

The cemetery being now regularly established, a reliable and 
intelligent sexton was placed in charge ; neat, if not substantial, 
headboards were placed at every grave containing all obtainable 
information concerning the occupant, and everything possible done 
to dispel the feeling, still existent, that the soldiers dying at Wash- 
ington were irreverently and negligently treated. From the 13th 
of May, 1864, the burials at Arlington were constant and many. 
Every day the gloomy black ambulances, laden with corpses en- 
closed in common pine coffins, made their way along the dusty 
highway from the Aqueduct to the gates of- Arlington. In the 
two months and a half from May 13 to June 30, 1864, the inter- 
ments at Arlington numbered 2,619, 231 of those buried being 
colored soldiers. From this time on the work of burying the 
bodies of those who died in the hospitals at W^ashington was car- 
ried steadily on at Arlington until the close of the war, in April, 
1865. The interments to June 30, 1865, numbered 5,291. Before 
the war had been concluded, however, the idea of establishing 
national cemeteries at convenient points had been developed until 
there were a large number located about Washington. In con- 
sequence the interments at Arlington for this year do not repre- 
sent all the deaths in Washington hospitals, for the terrible record 
of mortality shows that 15,708 heroes yielded up their lives dur- 
ing the year ending June 30., 1865, in the hospital wards of the 
National Capital ; a number whose appalling magnitude does 
not force itself upon the imagination until it is remembered that 
this great total of male adults represents the population of a large 

In this year the work of establishing new national ceme- 
teries and improving those already established went forward 


with great strides. A grateful country now had full leisure to 
appreciate the great debt it owed to the men who had laid down 
their lives in their country's defence, and took such steps as would 
best demonstrate the desire felt to express a nation's gratitude 
and remembrance. At Arlington everything possible was done to 
restore to the place its natural beauty and former grandeur of 
forested hills and sloping lawns. The splendid oak groves imme- 
diately surrounding the mansion had not fallen before the devas- 
tating scythe of war, and thus the great element of the natural and 
familiar aspect of the place had been preserved. As far as pos- 
sible the estate was restored to its pristine condition, and the old 
mansion, dismantled of its priceless treasures but still preserving 
its classical and dignified architectural beauty, was given over to 
the superintendent of the cemetery as his quarters. Terraces 
battered down by the constant trampling of man and horse and 
utterly denuded of tiirf were built up and resodded, and the long 
sloping hill, stretching away to the south, scarred by drain pits 
and camp-fire sites, was leveled and • planted with groves of orna- 
mental trees. Drives were restored, and emerald lawns again 
stretched away in velvety beauty from the portico of the mansion. 
As far as possible the scars of war were obliterated, and in a few 
short months the place again resumed the quiet beauty it had known 
as the homestead of Custis. The sturdy forests by the river side, 
however, could not be restored, and the beautiful surroundings of 
the far-famed Custis Spring became but a memory. In the im- 
mediate vicinity of the house, however, a perfect restoration was 
possible, so that in the latter part of 1865 those who had known 
the place before the internecine strife would not have noted any 
great changes save for the long lines of white headboards that 
gleamed through the vista« of forest aisles on every hand. 

Near the battle-fields of Spottsylvania and the Wilderness the 
national cemeteries were established during this year in which 
were interred the remains of those who fell in these battles and 
were not accorded proper burial at the time. Capt. Moore, with 
a detail of men, was sent into this region on the 12th of June,. 
1865, and was engaged during the rest of the month in collecting 
the remains of Union soldiers and reinterring them in the newly- 
established cemeteries. A careful and thorough search was made 
and all bodies found were buried under the direction of Capt. 


Moore, and headboards bearing the name, rank, and regiment of 
those reinterred were placed at each grave. 

At the Wilderness two national cemeteries were established, cem- 
etery No. 1 being on the Orange Court-House turnpike, about two 
miles from the Wilderness tavern ; cemetery No. 2 being lo- 
cated on the Orange Court-House plank road, about 2^ miles from 
its junction with the turnpike. 

At Spottsylvania few bodies were found uninterred, the dead of 
both armies having been buried by a Mr. Sanford, having a farm 
in that region. These, how^ever, were disinterred and buried in 
the new national cemetery established there. 

The work of repair on the old Soldiers' Home cemetery was com- 
pleted in this year. This practically comprised the cemeterial 
work done in the early part of 1865. 

During the year ending June 30, 1866, the Quartermaster-Gen- 
eral's oflfice continued to carry on the work of collecting into 
national cemeteries the remains of those who fell in battle or died 
in the cause of the Union. At the end of the fiscal year, forty- 
one of these cemeteries had been established, and ten more had 
been decided upon. Ground was purchased, wherever practicable, 
on or at least near the great battle-fields, and dedicated as na- 
tional cemeteries. Some of these cemeteries, as shown in the case 
of Arlington, were created during the war ; Gettysburg, for 
instance, at whose dedication, November 19, 1863, Lincoln deliv- 
ered his memorable address, having been commenced compara- 
tively early in the war. The majority came into existence in the 
years immediately subsequent, being filled in many cases with the 
bodies of those who were removed from the hastily excavated 
graves on the battle-fields. This work of collecting the bodies 
from the battle-fields was continued in this year under the direc- 
tion of Brevet Brigadier-General J. J, Dana. 

At this time there were 412 cemeteries, not the property of the 
nation, in which loyal soldiers were buried to the number of 
237,142. The national cemeteries contained at this time 104,528 
bodies, aggregating, with those buried in other cemeteries, 341,670. 
Of these, it was possible to identify only 202,761, it being utterly 
impossible to identify 138,901 bodies. There were besides in the 
national cemeteries the remains of 13,657 rebel prisoners. The 
total expenses incurred by the Government in procuring proper 


burial for these remains amounted to $1,144,791, while it was 
estimated that $1,609,294 would be required to complete the 

As stated before, the work of collecting the dead from the battle- 
fields was carried forward in this year. The actual operations in 
the department of Washington were under the superintendence 
of Col. M. G. Ludington, chief quartermaster, assisted by Capt. 
John R. Hynes and Brevet Major James Gleason, assistant quar- 
termaster. These officers, besides having the care of the ceme- 
teries at Annapolis and Point Lookout, Maryland, containing 2,675 
and 3,523 graves respectively, were entrusted with the disinter- 
ment of all bodies buried on the battle-fields of Maryland and Vir- 
ginia within a circuit of thirty-five miles from Washington. All 
these bodies were reinterred at Arlington. To Col. Ludington was 
also assigned the work of reinterring the bodies from the line of 
the Orange and Alexandria railroad as far south as Orange Court- 
House, and from the district tributary to that road on each side, 
extending half-way to the line of the Richmond and Fredericks- 
burg railroad on the east and to the Blue Ridge on the west. The 
bodies north of the Rappahannock river were removed to Arling- 
ton Cemetery, those south of the Rappahannock being interred in 
the cemetery established at Culpeper Court-House. 

A vault in this same year was constructed at Arlington under 
the superintendence of Col. Ludington, to which were removed 
such scattered and disorganized remains from the battle-fields of 
Bull Run and Manassas as could not be identified for separate 

Perhaps no work ever before attempted by an army officer 
presented such gruesome and uncanny features as this labor of 
collecting from the fields of strife and carnage these poor dis- 
membered fragments of human skeletons that were once swadded, 
perhaps, in the huge muscle and sinew of some titanic hero who 
dashed forward into the very heart of death's kingdom with bay- 
onet fixed and the warrior's cry of battle ringing from his lips. 
Some fierce, wild struggle, worthy the tribute of a laureate's pen, 
would be but vaguely imagined in a group of bleached skeletons 
hidden in some fence corner, with bare desiccated bones fractured 
by splintering shell or pierced by stinging bullet. In sequestered 
nooks in the pine and cedar growth of the forests of this region 


a few grim relics of man's mortality would tell a story of heroic 
deeds more glorious tlian the achievements of mailed knights ; the 
sortie by night and the ambushed surprise, with the hopeless bat- 
tling against invincible odds ; the gallant company encompassed 
by battalions and brigades and fighting till the last cartridge ex- 
ploded and then waiting death and oblivion with fast-gripped 
bayoneted rifles and the courage that made of our country a land of 
god-like heroes. These were the stories the mute witnesses told ; 
not in the well-rounded sentences of the historian or the spirited 
verse of the poet, but in a language as easy to understand. 
Throughout all this region the fighting had been of the severest 
kind ; roaring parks of artillery had flung the death-dealing shell 
with frightful accuracy, and at every point the hand-to-hand con- 
flict had left the story of its terrible intensity in the massed 
bodies of the mangled dead. 

At times a tale both pitiful and tragic would be told by the soli- 
tary skeleton of some lone picket who had fallen at his post with- 
out having been able to fire a shot in his own defence. 

In all these cases identification was impossible. When in the 
sharp conflict of armies one gave way and retreated the other fol- 
lowed fast without much heed for the brave fellows who had 
dropped from the company's rolls. In such cases, unless buried 
by some unselfish Samaritan, the bodies lay in the bleaching sun 
and rain, the flesh torn away by the carrion fowls, until only the 
fiercely grinning skull and brightly-polished frame of bone re- 
mained. In many cases, to the glory of the Union army be it 
said, skeletons with U. S. accoutrements were found in the abatis 
of rebel earthworks, where they had been carried by the impetus 
of some wild charge and left by their comrades when they fell 
death-stricken by the fierce fire from above. 

The collection of these scattered remains w^as certainly not a 
pleasant duty. Day after day the party, in charge of Col. Lud- 
ington, went carefully over the ground that had been occupied by 
the contending armies, finding at times clustered groups of com- 
plete skeletons, and again searching closely through wide fields only 
to find a pierced skull, or a few mere fragments. Some crimson- 
flowered vine clambering in rank luxuriance along the zig-zag 
fence-lines into some wild, lonely nook in the gloomy pineries 
would, if followed back to earth, be found rioting in the rich mold 

• ^ 74 

whose fertility was derived from near-lying, unburied bodies of 
the country's loyal dead. 

As far as possible, the bones belonging to one individiial were 
collected and shipped to Arlington in small wooden cases about 
two feet long by a foot square. Often a body would be repre- 
sented by a skull or thigh-bone; again by nearly a full comple- 

When the work was finished, 2,111 oblong wooden cases, repre- 
senting this number of human beings, had been placed in the vault 
at Arlington. Afterwards a granite sarcophagus of simple but 
impressive beauty was placed over this vault, and is to-day one of 
the most interesting objects at Arlington. It bears the simple 
inscription : 

Here lie the bones of 2,111 iinkuown soldiers. Their remains could not be iden- 
tified, but their names and deaths are recorded in the archives of their country^ 
and its grateful citizens honor them as of their noble army of martyrs. May they 
rest in peace. 

Besides this work Col. Ludington and Capt. John R. Hynes 
also were assigned, as stated before, the task of removing to 
Arlington the dead bodies disinterred in Maryland within a circuit of 
thirty-live miles from Washington. A numbered list of these exhum- 
ations was prepared by Capt. Hynes, who also made a great number 
of sketches of the various localities whence the bodies were taken. 
Figures were marked on the sketches to correspond with those on 
the lists, the' latter giving in each case the location of the body as 
reinterred at Arlington. The lists and sketch-books were placed 
on file in Washington on the completion of the work and led to 
the identification of many of these bodies, particularly in the case 
of those marked " unknown." In all cases, whether the bodies 
were known or unknown, the localitj^ from which they were 
removed, together with the date of removal, M'as placed upon the 

The total number of bodies of United States soldiers buried in 
the department of Washington under the charge of Col. Luding- 
ton in this year was 5,287, of which number 4,180 were finally 
identified. The total number of interments in the department of 
Washington at this time Was as follows : 

1. United States Military Asylum, 5,717 graves. 

2. Harmony National Cemetery, 3,251 graves. 


3. Battle Cemetery, 40 graves. 

4. Union Cemetery, 1,012 graves. 

5. Arlington, 9,795 graves, 

6. Alexandria Cemetery, 3,601 graves. 
Total number of graves 23,416. 

During the years 1866, '67, '68, '69, and '70 the work of the 
cemeterial branch of the Quartermaster-General's office was car- 
ried steadily forward, and the report for the latter year shows that 
but little remained to be accomplished. The labors of this divis- 
ion were virtually completed. Occasionally bodies were found 
after this lapse of years, but they were few in number and were 
removed as soon as discovered to the nearest national cemetery. 

Plans for beautifying the cemeteries by planting shrubs and orna- 
mental trees were carried into effect during this year. At Arling- 
ton and four other cemeteries handsome arched gateways were 
erected, and the Arlington cemetery was also improved by the 
construction of -a stone wall entirely enclosing the portion set aside 
for burial purposes at that time. 

During the year the interments of Union dead throughout the 
country numbered 315,555 ; of this number, 143,446 being un- 

Prior to 1869 twenty-one volumes of the Roll of Honor, con- 
taining the record of 255,655 of deceased Union soldiers, were 
published, and in this year four volumes were added containing 
the record of 77,300 graves. i' 

During the year 1870 the work of improving Arlington was. 
continued, many interments being made. At the close of the 
fiscal year 15,932 graves were located within the enclosed grounds. 

During the year 1871 many improvements in the grounds at 
Arlington were mapped out and carried into effect. A large and 
imposing entrance gate of Seneca stone was erected. A " sylvan 
grove " of maples was planted in the southwest portion of the 
grounds, on the plan of a Gothic cathedral, with arched avenues, 
leading away in all directions. 

In the year 1872 the Quartermaster-General decided upon the 
form of headstone now in use, and for the first time the plain 
plank headboards were removed and the substantial slabs of gran- 
ite and marble that now mark each soldier's grave were placed in 
all the cemeteries. 


From this time on until tlie year 1892 the history of Arlington 
is too uneventful, aside from the legal battle for its possession, to 
deserve a detailed chronicle. As the years passed, the white 
headstones increased in number and the city of the dead grew in 
population. No great changes came, however. A wide section 
was set aside for the burial of the officers of the army and navy, 
to the west of the mansion, and only lately two interments have 
been made on the sloping lawn in front of the house. These 
graves contain the bodies of Gen. Sheridan and Admiral Porter, 
and it has always been the hope of the American people that the 
body of Grant would rest with these at Arlington. Within a 
year the stone wall enclosing that portion of Arlington set aside 
for burial purposes has been moved and run further to the south 
so as to enclose the old earthworks known as Fort McPherson., 

This addition will give nearly 100 acres more for burials. The 
land is entirely clear, the great forest belt that extended along 
the plateau having been cut away, both to the west and south, 
when Forts Whipple and McPherson were established. 

During the past summer the laboring force at Arlington, under 
the superintendence of landscape gardener Ehodes, has trans- 
formed the old dismantled earthwork south of the cemetery proper 
into a fair semblance of the sturdy structure that stood there 
during the war. Moat, bastions, and parapet cleanly clad in 
velvety turf, with sharp angles and smooth flat surfaces rising 
fi'om the surrounding sward, will bring back to every soldier and 
veteran of the late war long dead memories of the days when 
behind every such embankment lay massed troops and heavy 
pieces of ordnance ready for the terrible earnest work before 

Fort McPherson redivivus is far handsomer than the old Fort 
McPherson, designed for purely utilitarian purposes. The lines 
of the latter in their mathematical accuracy have not been dis- 
turbed, bnt sodded slopes now face the invader where in time of war 
there was only the bare yellow clay, revetted in places by plank- 
ing and timbers. The sharp edges of the bastions, too, are out- 
lined with a care and delicacy that, while adding to the beauty of 
the place, detracts in some sense from the feeling of realism in- 
duced by a sight of this restored relic of the time of Washington's 
greatest danger. The fort, however, will be an object-lesson to 


the thousands who visit it and will in all probability form one of 
the objects of greatest interest to the average visitor. 

Superintendent J. A. Commerford has entire charge of the 
national cemetery at Arlington, having been appointed to his 
present position about six years ago by the War Department. 
Superintendent Commerford has a force of fourteen laborers con- 
stantly employed on the grounds, and has, besides, the direction of 
the operations of the special force that for some time past has 
been at work on the restoration of Fort McPherson. Landscape 
gardener D. H. Ehodes has charge of the floral display, and under 
the direction of the superintendent supervises all work connected 
with improvements on or about the grounds. Nearly all the work- 
men employed are ex-Union soldiers. One of them, however, is 
an old negro, Wesley Norris, one of the slaves of Mr. Custis, who 
was born on the estate and often accompanied his master on his 
long hunting expeditions. He was one of the squad of slaves that 
bore the body of the first master of Arlington House to his lonely 
grave in the deep grove west of the mansion, now marked by a 
crumbling stone shaft. 



The story of the passage of. the Arlington estate from the posses- 
sion of the Lees to that of the United States Government is not the 
least interesting portion of the story of this historic old place. In 
the very first days of the war, as already shown, it was occupied by 
the Union forces and never after ceased to be occupied and used 
by the United States. In January, 1864, the Government secured 
■what was deemed a good title to the estate by purchase at a sale 
in accordance with the provisions of the direct tax-act. August 5, 
1861, the Government, in order to raise sufficient funds to carry 
on the war, passed "An act to provide increased revenues from 
imports to pay interest on the public debt, and for other purposes." 
Section 8 of this act provided for the levying of a direct tax upon 
the United States annually of $20,000,000, apportioned among 
the several States. Virginia's share of the direct tax amounted to 

On June 7, 1862, an act was passed providing for the collection 
of the direct taxes in the insurrectionary districts within the 
United States. It had been ascertained long before this that it 
was impossible to collect the taxes, levied by the direct tax act, in 
the States at this time in open rebellion. This act provided that 
when, by reason of insurrection in any State, the civil authority 
became obstructed and the act providing for the collection of the 
direct tax could not be peacefully executed, the tax apportionment 
should be charged or apportioned in each insurrectionary' district 
upon all lands and lots of ground according to the enumeration 
and valuation of the last assessment preceding the breaking out 
of the war. The act provided further for the sale of all such 
tracts or parcels of land in order to secure the payment of this 
tax, and set forth at great length the manner in which such sale 
should be conducted. Commissioners were appointed whose duty 
it should be to apportion the assessments and conduct the sales 
according to the provisions of the act. A final section of the bill 
read as follows : 


And provided further, That at such sale any tracts, parcels, or lots of land which 
may be selected under the direction of the President for Government use for war, 
military, naval, revenue, charitable, educational, or police purposes, may at said 
sale be bid in by said commissioners, under the direction of the President, for and 
struck off to the United States. 

On the 6th of February an act was passed to amend " An act for 
the collection of direct taxes in the insurrectionarj' districts." This 
act, based upon the failures and mistakes of the former act, con- 
tained detailed and specific instructions as to the manner in which 
such sales should be conducted. 

Under the provisions of these acts and the amendments thereto 
the sale of the Arlington estate on the 11th of January, 1864, was 
advertised in the Virginia State Journal from the 21st of Novem- 
ber, 1863, the date of the first insertion, until the day preceding 
the sale. In January, 1864, Arlington was occupied by two forts, 
with full garrisons and thousands of tents. In consequence, the 
Secretary of War recommended to the President that the estate 
be purchased by the U, S. Government for military purposes. 
President Lincoln acted on this recommendation, and on the 11th 
of January, 1864, the estate of 1,100 acres was put up at public 
sale, and after but little competition was bid in and struck oflf to 
the United States by the order of the President, acting in accord- 
ance with the provisions of the act cited above. The amount of 
the Government's purchasing bid was $26,100. The estate had 
been assessed the year previous to the breaking out of the war at 

The three commissioners for Yirginia who had charge of the 
sale of the Arlington estate were John Hawxhurst, Gilbert F. 
Watson, and A. Lawrence Foster. By reason of some remissness 
the certificate of this tax sale was not made out until September 
26, 1866, the year after the war closed. 

From this time on the Government held possession under the 
tax-sale title. In Maj^ 1864, burials of Union soldiers were made 
on the place and shortly after it was established as a national 

Neither Gen. Lee nor his wife, Mary Custis Lee, made any at- 
tempt to regain possession of the Arlington property. They were 
but life tenants and had no title to the property, which had been 
devised by George Washington Parke Custis to his grandson, 


George Washington Custis Lee, by the terms of his will, which 
read as follows : 

Will of G. W. P. Custis. 

In the name of God, amen. I, George Washington Parke Custis, of Arlington 
House, in the county of Alexandria and State of Virginia, being sound in body and 
mind, do make and ordain this instrument of writing as my last will and testament, 
revoking all other wills and testaments whatever. I give and bequeath to my 
dearly beloved daughter and only child, Mary Ann Kandolph Lee, my Arlington 
House estate, in the county of Alexandria and State of Virginia, containing eleven 
hundred acres, more or less, and my mill on Four-Mile Run, in the county of 
Alexandria, and the lands of mine adjacent to said mill, in the counties of Alexan- 
dria and Fairfax, in the State of Virginia, the use and benefit of all just mentioned 
during the term of her natural life, together with my horses and carriages, furni- 
ture, pictures, and plate, during the term of her natural life. 

On the death of my daughter, Mary Ann Randolph Lee, all the property left to 
her during the term of her natural life I give and bequeath to my eldest grandson, 
George Washington Custis Lee, to him and his heirs forever, he, my said eldest 
grandson, taking my name and arms. 

I leave and bequeath to my four granddaughters, Mary, Ann, Agnes, and Mil- 
dred Lee, to each ten thousand dollars. I give and bequeath to my second grand- 
son, William Henry Fitzhugh Lee, when he shall be of age, my estate called the 
White House, in the county of New Kent and State of Virginia, containing four 
thousand acres, more or less, to him and his heirs forever. 

I give and bequeath to my third and youngest grandson, Robert Edward Lee, 
when he is of age, mj' estate in the county of King William and State of Virginia, 
called Romancock, containing four thousand acres, more or less, to him and his 
heirs forever. 

My estate of Smith's Island, at the capes of Virginia, and in the county of North- 
ampton, I leave to be sold to assist in paying my granddaughters' legacies, to be 
sold in such manner as may be deemed by my executors most expedient. 

Any and all lands that I may possess in the counties of Stafford, Richmond, and 
Westmoreland, I leave to be sold to aid in paying my granddaughters' legacies. 

I give and bequeath my lot in square No. 21, Washington city, to my son-in-law, 
Lieut. Col. Robert E. Lee, to him and his heirs forever. My daughter, Mary A. 
R. Lee, has the privilege, by this will, of dividing my family plate among my grand- 
children, but the Mt. Vernon altogether, and every article I possess relating to 
Washington and that came from Mt. Vernon is to remain with my daughter at 
Arlington House during said daughter's life, and at her death to go to my eldest 
grandson, George Washington Custis Lee, and to descend from him entire and 
unchanged to my latest posterity. 

My estates of the White House, in the county of New Kent, and Romancock, in 
the county of King William, both being in the State of Virginia, together with 
Smith's Island, and the lands I may possess in the counties of Stafford, Richmond, 
and Westmoreland counties are charged with the payment of the legacies of my 
granddau ghters . 

Smith's Island and the aforesaid lands in Stafford, Richmond, and Westmoreland 
only are to be sold, the lands of the White House and Romancock to be worked to 
raise the aforesaid legacies to my four granddaughters. 

And upon the legacies to my four granddaughters being paid, and my estates 


that are required to pay the said legacies being clear of debt, then I give freedom 
to my slaves, the said slaves to be emancipated by my executors in such manner as 
to my executors may seem most expedient and proper, the said emancipation to be 
accomplished in not exceeding five years from the time of my decease. 

And I do constitute and appoint as my executors Lieut. Col. Robert Edward 
Lee, Robert Lee Randolph, of Eastern View, Rt. Rev. Bishop Meade, and George 
Washington Peter. 

This will, written by my hand, is signed, sealed, and executed the twenty-sixth 
day of March, eighteen hundred and fifty-five. 

26th March, 1855. 
Witness : 

Mabtha Custis Williams. 


George Washington Custis Lee did not take the name and arms 
of Custis as required, so in order to quiet the claims of the other 
heirs and to secure to G. W. C. Lee the property devised to him 
by his grandfather Mrs. Lee left at her death the following will : 

Will of Maey C. Lee. 

In the name of God, amen. I, Mary Custis Lee, widow of General Robert E. 
Lee, do make, publish, and declare this as my last will and testament. 

In compliance with the wishes expressed in the last will and testament of my 
deceased husband, Robert E. Lee, and by virtue of the power and authority therein 
conferred upon me, I appoint and direct as follows : 

First. That owing to an arrangement between my children satisfactory to them, 
and my sons W. H. F. Lee and Robert E. Lee having in writing relinquished all 
benefit, present or prospective, in the estate of their father, Robert E. Lee, de- 
ceased, it is my will and desire, in view of said agreement and relinquishment, 
that the said W. H. F. Lee and Robert E, Lee be excluded from any participation 
in the estate of said Robert E. Lee, deceased. 

Second. It is my will and desire, and I do so appoint and direct, that all of the 
estate of the said Robert E. Lee shall, upon my decease, be equally divided be- 
tween my son G. W. Custis Lee and my three daughters, Mary, Mildred, and 
Agnes, share and share alike, each taking one equal fourth part. 

Third. Should my son, G. W. Custis Lee, recover the estate called Arlington, 
situate in the county of Alexandria, Va. , or be paid therefor by the Government 
of the United States, then, and in that event, it is my will and desire, and I so 
appoint and direct, that the one-fourth part of his father's estate given to him, the 
said G. Custis Lee, in the foregoing clause of my will, shall pass and belong to my 
three daughters above named, in equal portions. 

I appoint my sons G. W. Custis Lee and W. H. F. Lee executors of this my 
last will and testament without security. 

Given under my hand and seal this 9th day of June, A. D. 1873. 


Witnesses : 

A. M. Lee. 
Fhancxs G. Smith. 


By the provisions of these wills Mr. George Washington Custis 
Lee became the sole claimant to the Arlington estate, and took 
the first steps to secure possession, or at least a fair compensation 
for the loss of the estate, by filing in the circuit court of Alex- 
andria a suit in ejectment against Frederick Kauffman and R. P. 
Strong, parties occupying the ground as representatives of the 
Government. Mr. Kauffman was at that time superintendent of the 
national cemetery at Arlington, which contained not more than 
200 acres. R. P. Strong was the commanding officer at Fort 
Whipple, now Fort Myer, then the home of the Signal Corps of 
the Ai'my. These proceedings in ejectment also included about 
200 negroes, residents of Freed man's village, who were permitted 
to hold small tracts of land on the Arlington estate in return for 
which privilege they were expected to work a certain number of 
hours each day at the fort. Early in the proceedings, however, 
an order was issued dismissing the suit against these negroes, as 
it was clearly shown that they were simply tenants of Comman- 
dant Strong. 

Action was commenced in the circuit court of Alexandria on 
the first Monday in May, 1877, but was, as soon as the declara- 
tion was filed, removed by writ of certiorari to the circuit court of 
the United States for the eastern district of Virginia, where all 
the subsequent proceedings took place. 

After a long though interesting hearing a verdict in favor of the 
plaintiff was rendered. 

Although the United States had not appeared as a party to the 
suit in the court below, the case was carried to the Supreme Court 
on a writ of error, based on the rejection of a suggesiaon submitted 
during the hearing in the inferior court by the Attorney-General 
moving the withdrawal of the action, inasmuch as the United 
States had established its claim to the land involved by a ten- 
years holding and a valid title conferred by the tax sale. 

The appeal was heard during the October term of the Supreme 
Court, 1882, and was argued by Wm. D. Shipman, A. Ferguson 
Beach, and Wm. J. Roberts for the defendant, and Solicitor 
Westell Willoughby for the Government. The decision, which 
was rendered by Justice Miller, held briefly that the court below 
had no jurisdiction in the case, and the verdict, therefore, could 
not hold. The suit in ejectment against Strong and Kauffman, it 


was shown, was really a suit against the United States, and as a 
sovereign cannot be sued without his consent, the Supreme Court 
held that the lower court had acted without authority, inasmuch 
as it had no power to render judgment where it could not enforce 

This decision, however, granted the validity of the title of Mr. 
Xiee to the estate and left the National Government in the posi- 
tion of holding possession of the estate involved by barring the 
■claimant from further action in the courts. It was fully under- 
stood, however, that the Government could have no just title to 
the estate and the Secretary of War was in consequence directed 
by a resolution of Congress to ascertain upon what terms a valid 
title to the property could be secured. He accordingly conferred 
with Mr. Lee, who expressed his willingness to yield all claims to 
the Arlington estate and deed the same to the United States for 
the sum of $150,000. 

On transmitting this information to Congress a clause was em- 
bodied in the general deficiency bill, passed March 3, 1883, ap- 
propriating the sum named. The clause carrying the appropria- 
tion reads as follows : 

To enable the Secretary of War to remove all claims and pretensions in re- 
spect of the property in the State of Virginia known as Arlington, on which a ceme- 
tery for the burial of deceased soldiers of the United States has been established, 
and which property was taken by the United States for public use in the year anno 
Domini eighteen hundred and sixty-four, one hundred and fifty thousand dollars ; 
Ijut this appropriation shall not be paid out of the Treasury until the Attorney- 
■General shall be satisfied, and so certify to the Secretary of War, that the deed or 
■deeds to be given to the United States to the end aforesaid will convey a complete 
title and contain covenants of general warranty and covenants against every man- 
ner of claim against or in respect of said property, whether in rem or in personam, 
and also against all and every claim for damages in respect of, or the use and oc- 
cupation of, said property, and also a release by every person entitled of all claim 
ior and to the amount bid, or any part thereof, in behalf of the United States, on 
the tax sale of said property. 

A deed to the property in question was promptly executed by 
Mr. Lee and presented to the Attorney-General for his approval. 
The latter, acting in accordance with the provisions of the act 
making the appropriation, examined closely into Mr. Lee's title to 
the Arlington property, and after assuring himself that the deed 
conveyed a complete warranty against every manner of claim 
against the property forwarded to the Secretary of War a lengthy 


opinion in which he reviewed the legal history of the suits for re- 
covery and the title of the claimant to the property. This title of 
Mr. Lee was found to be without flaw, and the deed submitted by 
him fulfilled all the requirements of the provisions of the act of 
March 3d. Accordingly the opinion of the Attorney-General con- 
cludes with the statement : " Therefore I am of the opinion that 
the deed of Mr. Lee may properly be accepted upon the terms 
proposed." Upon the receipt of the opinion of Attorney-General 
Brewster Secretary Lincoln ordered the Secretary of the Treasury 
to make the payment provided for in the appropriation. Shortly 
after, Mr. Lee received the sum of $150,000 from the Treasury 
Department and the United States came into possession of a per- 
fect and flawless title to the Arlington House estate. 

The authors of this work, at great labor and expense, have ob- 
tained the following document showing the manner in which the 
lands under discussion have changed owners from the days of 
Gov. Berkeley in 1669 to the present time : 

" An abstract of title to the Arlington House estate, a tract of 
land containing about 1,100 acres, situate in Alexandria county,, 
formerly Fairfax county, State of Virginia. The land was a part 
of the grant or patent from Sir William Berkeley, Governor of Vir- 
ginia, to Eobert Howser, dated October 21, 1669, under which 
John and Gerard Alexander asserted title as late as 1735. In the 
case of Birch v. Alexander, 1. Wash. (Va.) R. 34, this grant was. 
maintained by the court of appeals. 

Gerard Alexander, by his will, dated August 9, 1760, devised 
the same to his son Gerard. Vide Will Book B, p. 327, Fairfax 
county records. Gerard Alexander and Jane, his wife, conveyed 
the same to John Parke Custis by deed, dated December 25, A. 
D. 1778. The general index shows that such a deed was recorded 
Liber N, Fairfax county records, but, with other records of that 
county, was lost or destroyed during the late war. A certified 
copy of the original deed has been preserved and is submitted 
with this abstract for delivery to the United States as a muni- 
ment of title. Pursuant to a decree of Fairfax county court 
dated June 21, 1796, in a suit wherein the representatives of John 
Parke Custis were complainants and the heirs of Gerard Alex- 
ander were defendants, the portion of Gerard Alexander, Jr., iu 
the lands of his father were allotted to the legal representatives 


of the said John Parke Custis. The record of this suit was, how- 
•ever, lost or destroyed in the late war. 

John Parke Custis died, intestate, on the 5th of November, A. D. 
1781, fetat 28. The law of primogeniture was then in force, and 
this estate descended to his only son, George W. P. Custis. As 
to the time of his death, Irving's ' Life of Washington,' vol. 4, p. 
358, and a certificate of the clerk of Fairfax county show that ad- 
ministration of his estate had been granted by that court prior to 
February 20, 1782. 

Primogeniture in Virginia was abolished by an act passed Octo- 
l)er, 1785, to take effect January 1, 1787. (Hening's Statutes, 
vol. 12, p. 138.) George Washington Parke Custis died seized 
iind possessed of this estate in 1857. By his will, dated March 
^6, 1855, it was devised to his only child, Mary Ann Eandolph 
Lee, for life, remainder in fee to his ' eldest grandson, George W. 
O. Lee, to him and his heirs forever, he, my said eldest grandson, 
taking my name and arms ' (Will Book No. 7, p. 267, Alexandria 
county court), and for copy of said will and decree admitting 
«ame to probate vide record of the case, The United States v. G. 
W. C. Lee, pp. 74-75. 

In that suit it was proved that Geo. Wash. Parke Custis had 
possessed and lived upon the estate for more than 35 years, prior 
to its institution, and by the land books of the county that the 
estate had been listed and assessed for taxation as the property of 
Geo. W. P. Custis during his lifetime, and he was born prior to 

Mrs. M. A. E. Lee, the tenant for life, died in 1873, and as G. 
W. C. Lee did not take the name and arms of his grandfather, to 
avoid any question of his title, his heirs, who were the children of 
Mrs. Lee, waived in a release any claim they might have to the 
whole. (Vide Liber B, No. 4, folio 414, Alexandria County Court ; 
also record of above-mentioned suit, pp. 78 and 79.) 

The estate was held and possessed by Mrs, Lee until 1861, 
since which period the United States has held it in possession, 
and since 1864, when it was held for direct taxes, has claimed it 
as absolute owner." 



The cemetery as it appears to the visitor now presents, seem- 
ingly, endless vistas of marble headstones, stretching out in un- 
broken lines like the silent army of the dead standing in review 
before the succeeding generation of the living. Notwithstanding 
this, however, only a small portion of the ground enclosed within 
the walls of Arlington is occupied by graves. The rest is still 
taken up with the sloping lawns and groves of magnificent oaks, 
with here and there bits of wild wood, as yet unadorned by the 
art of the landscape gardener. 

The main entrances to the grounds are along the Georgetown 
and Alexandria road, which skirts the hills of the cemetery and 
winds its way along the level ground below. Here there are three 
gates, flanked by columns and ornamented by arches, and a fourth, 
known as the new gate, which swings between massive piles of 
masonry that once formed a portion of the old War Department 
building. The first of these gates is the Ord and Weitzel gate. 
On either side is a tall column surmounted by a funeral urn, and 
on the columns are inscribed the names of Gens. Ord and WeitzeL 
Lower down the road is a larger and more imposing entrance,, 
known as the Sheridan gate. Here there are four columns sup- 
porting a moulded cross-piece of stone. The name Sheridan 
stands out in bold relief from the masonry, and on each of the 
four columns is a distinguished name. The names are Scott, Lin- 
coln, Stanton, and Grant. The third gate is the McClellan gate. 
At this the entrance to the grounds is marked by a massive struc- 
ture of red sandstone, artistic in its design and imposing in it& 
strength and beauty. Over the gateway is the name of the con- 
queror at the battle of Antietam, and beneath it an appropriate 
inscription. The fourth gate is a new gate, very simple in its de- 
sign and as yet but little used. 

From each of these gates roadways winding through beautiful 

groves of trees lead to the mansion. From the Ord and Weitzel 
gate the road takes the \dsitor through a narrow strip of ground 
in which the first burials during the war were made. The strip 
contains not more than an acre or two, but in it are about 5,000 
graves. It terminates in a narrow point formed by the road and 
the stone wall of the cemetery, and above this point is a large circu- 
lar bed of flowers Passing the flowers, the road plunges sud- 
denly into a wood so dense and wild that one wonders if the peaceful 
little burying-ground through which he has passed can have any 
connection with the great national cemetery. Proceeding, this feel- 
ing of wonder increases as along hillsides and through deep ravines 
the road winds its way, flanked all the time by sturdy oaks and 
a dense undergrowth of saplings, till suddenly, after a steep 
climb, it emerges from the natural forest ink) the area of well- 
cared-for grounds about the stately old mansion. 

The roads that lead up from the other gates have about them 
none of the wild beauty that marks the thoroughfare just de- 
scribed, but they are none the less beautiful. They pass beneath 
the spreading branches of gigantic oaks, and wind about on ter- 
races, flanked by smooth rolling lawns. The grounds through 
which they pass formed originally the park of the Custis estate, 
and few changes have been made in them since the good-natured 
founder of the place put them in shape. The Government has 
improved the roads and smoothed down the rough places, but the 
natural beauty of the place remains as it was when Custis, as a 
young man, first erected Arlington House. At intervals along 
both roads huge blocks of hewn stone are found which were 
placed in their present positions years ago and used as seats by 
Custis and his friends. 

All the roads, no matter at what place the entrance to the 
grounds is made, lead to but one central point, the picturesque 
old house. It stands embowered in virgin trees, the most in- 
teresting feature still of the vast resting-place of the dead, while 
ranged about it, in shady wood or sunny dell, the myriads of 
graves seem fittingly to harmonize with thoughts of its departed 
greatness. Some description of the old mansion has heretofore 
been given, and as it stands to-day exactly as it did in the time of 
Parke Custis there seems little need to repeat it. 

The change from the past to the present is shown in the inte- 


rior of the house. Blank, cheerless walls greet one where, in 
years gone by, hung objects of artistic value, while the bare rooms 
can now give but little idea of the life and cheerfulness that once 
reigned there. 

Over the main entrance to the building hangs a sign, " Super- 
intendent's Office," and the door on the right that opens from the 
hallway leads to the apartments occupied by that official. The 
upper floor of the building and the entire right wing are taken up 
by the superintendent's appartments, and are not open to the 
public. The rooms on the left are always open, but they possess 
very little of interest. 

A few shields, bearing appropriate inscriptions ; pictures of two 
or three different sections of the grounds ; the great Decoration 
Day orations of President Lincoln and Robert G. IngersoU set in 
frames, and a desk, at which visitors are requested to register their 
names in a large book that lies upon it, are all that they contain. 

Directly in front of the main entrance stands the flag-pole, and 
on the hill beside it are the graves of the two illustrious com- 
manders, Gen. P. H. Sheridan and Admiral Porter. The Admiral's 
grave is to the left and is still unmarked by stone of any kind. 
A fence of chains surrounds it and indicates the space where, in 
the near future, a monument worthy of the dead man's fame will 
be erected. 

Over the grave of Gen. Sheridan standi the most beautiful mon- 
ument at Arlington. It is a block of highly polished granite. 
Upon its face is a bronze flag and medallion, the latter containing 
a head of the dead general in high relief. The bronze cast is the 
work of Samuel Kitson, of Boston, and has been greatly admired 
as a likeness of Gen. Sheridan. The grave itself is overgrown 
with ivy, and is enclosed by a chain suspended from pillars of 

On the same slope and but a few yards distant from the grave 
of Sheridan is the grave of Surg.-Gen. Jedediah Hyde Bax- 
ter, whose death occurred in December, 1890. This grave is also 
surmounted by a handsome monument. Other graves on this 
hillside are those of Bvt. Maj.-Gen. J. H. Mower and Gen. Sam- 
uel David Sturgis. 

It is the intention of the War Department to reserve the slope 
on which these graves are located as the burial-place of highly- 


distinguished officers of either the Army or Navy. As yet the 
graves mentioned are the only ones it contains, but the remains of 
Gen. Crook will before long be included in the number. At pres- 
ent Gen. Crook is buried in what is known as the officers' section. 

The section set apart for the burial of officers lies along the 
level ridge that extends back from the mansion, in the direction 
of Fort Myer. It is divided by a roadway into two portions, and 
is separated from the general burying-ground by the road that 
leads from the Fort Myer gate, past the rostrum and amphithea- 
tre, to the Arlington house. Here lie many distinguished officers 
who served their country bravely, and over their remains stand 
handsome monuments of sombre granite and glistening marble. 
It is the one spot in the cemetery where any departure from the 
simple style of gravestone provided by the Government has been 
permitted, and as a result the spot is rapidly becoming one of the 
most beautiful to be found there. No attempt at uniformity in 
the style of these monuments has been attempted, but loving 
friends and admiring comrades have been allowed to exercise their 
fancy in the erection of these testimonials of regard. 

The most ornate marble shafts are to be found here bearing in- 
scriptions that show the services rendered by the dead heroes and 
the esteem of those who served with them, while equally conspic- 
uous by their simplicity are the rough-hewn blocks of granite 
that mark many of the graves. The latter, indeed, predominate, 
and a striking feature of this part of the cemetery is the absence 
of all ostentatious display about the memorials reared to perpet- 
uate the fame of those who rest beneath them. The rough-hewn 
granite blocks, the undressed shafts bearing upon their faces but 
the name and rank of the dead soldier, are suggestive in their 
simplicity of the rugged, forceful character of the men who planned 
campaigns and led their troops to battle. They are as if death 
had stripped commanders of all the gaudy trappings of war and 
now hold up, for veneration and respect, the simple man beneath. 
Here lie the venerable Harney, the courageous Paul, the dashing 
Ricketts, the indefatigable Crook, the resourceful Meigs, the gal- 
lant Belknap, and many others, whose records both in peace and 
war entitle them to the grateful remembrance of their countrymen. 

An object of general interest to visitors is the sarcophagus of 
dressed marble which contains the bodies of Gen. M. C. Meigs, 


Quartermaster-General of the army during the entire civil war, 
and of his wife, Louisa Eogers Meigs. About this are the graves 
of other members of the Meigs family. At one side of the sar- 
cophagus is the grave of Lieut. John Eogers Meigs, tlie eldest 
son of Gen, Meigs, who was killed in battle in 1864. The young 
man was chief of engineers in the Army of the Shenandoah, A 
rectangular block of black marble, on which rests a bronze figure 
of the young soldier as he was found on the battle-field, marks 
the grave. On the other side of the sarcophagus, marked by a 
simple shaft of stone, is the grave of Gen. Meigs' father, Josiah 
Meigs, who was Commissioner of the General Land Office in the 
early years of the century. Two children of Gen. Meigs, Charles 
D. and Vincent Trowbridge Meigs, are also buried near. Not 
far from this group of graves is a marble slab over the last rest- 
ing-place of Col. John McComb, an able officer, and for years 
before the war one of that distinguished group of friends that 
included Lee, Johnston, Meigs, and others. 

An undressed granite shaft half enveloped in clinging ivy rears 
its lofty height over the grave of Brig.-Gen. William B. Hazen, 
for years Chief Signal Officer of the United States, whose 
death occurred in 1887, Brig.-Gen. Gabriel R. Paul, who lost 
both his eyes in the furious charge of the Union forces at Gettys- 
burg, is buried near by, with a granite column to mark his grave. 
Near that of Gen. Paul is the grave of Brig.-Gen, Plummer, whose 
death in 1864 occurred in camp, near Corinth, Mississippi, and 
was caused by wounds received in battle. Bvt. Maj.-Gen. John 
H. Kirk is also buried near by, and over his grave stands a beau- 
tiful granite block, with polished sides tastefully ornamented. 

A plain dressed granite shaft simple in outline and unpreten- 
tious in appearance rises above the grave of Gen. Ricketts and 
bears upon its polished faces the brief record of his long and faith- 
ful services. Gen. James Brewerton Ricketts at the time of his 
death, September 22, 1887, was a major-general in the U, S. Army. 
On graduating at West Point he was assigned to artillery service 
on the Canadian frontier. He served through the war with Mex- 
ico ; was on frontier duty for several years in Texas ; was engaged 
in 27 battles of the rebellion ; was wounded five times, and lan- 
guished as a prisoner of war in the rebel prison at Richmond. He 
died from wounds received while commanding the Sixth corps in the 


Shenandoah valley. No more daring or chivalrous soldier lies be- 
neath the Arlington sod than Eicketts, and the members of his old 
command lovingly deck his tomb with flowers on each recurring 
Memorial Day. 

But a few steps away a dressed granite cube, simple to the 
point of bareness, is erected in memory of Gen. Myers, a lieuten- 
ant-colonel and brevet brigadier-general in the U. S. Army, whose 
record needs no wordy monument or showy shaft. Another plain 
granite cube near by bears the name of Thomas G. Baylor, who 
bore a distinguished part in the civil war as chief ordnance officer 
of the Army of the Cumberland, and the military division of the 
Mississippi, on the staff of Gen. Sherman. The grave of Brig.- 
Gen. Jones, for a number of years inspector-general in the 
U. S. Army, is marked by a simple, tasteful monument, and is 
located towards the western end of the officers' section. The 
stone placed above the grave of Capt. Adolphus H. C. Yon Dach- 
enhausen is of pure white marble and bears carved upon it the 
cavalry sabre that marks the branch of service to which Capt. 
Von Dachenhausen belonged. He was a member of the German 
nobility and was born in the kingdom of Hanover in 1815. A 
rough-hewn granite cross near by bears simply the name of Lieut. 
J. D. Mann, and the two dates 1855-1891, the sole record of a 
brave young officer. Capt. Charles Parker, of the 9th IT. S. cav- 
alry, is buried not far from here, his grave being marked by a 
small upright slab of white marble. 

At the upper end of this section, near the rostrum, a rough 
granite block surmounts the grave of Surg.-Gen. Charles H. 
Crane, of the U. S. Army, who died in 1883. Near here is also 
the tomb in which are interred the remains of Cornelia Wyntje 
Smith, wife of Gen. Absalom Baird, Inspector-General of the U. 
S. Army. There are several living officers of the U. S. Army who 
have erected ante-mortem monuments at Arlington. The most 
striking of these is the polished granite block marking the lot in 
which is buried the wife of Capt. J. D. Young, and bearing the 
name of the living officer, with the date of his birth, and a space to 
be filled in when he shall have been awarded his last promotion. 

One of the strikingly beautiful monuments among the many in 
the officers' section is that erected to the memory of Stephen C. 
Lyford, major of ordnance. It is a massive block of rough- 


dressed granite, polished in sections and tastefully inscribed. 
Another is that of Maj. K. L. Shelly. It is similar in design to 
that of Maj. Lyford, but on the face is a bronze wreath of oak 
leaves, from which is suspended the badge of the corps with 
which he served. This is arranged with such artistic skill that 
the bronze blends with the rough stone on which it rests with 
perfect harmony. 

Many other distinguished officers lie in this section, some of 
whose graves are ornamented with handsome stones. Others 
have but the regulation headstone provided by the Government 
to mark their resting-place, while quite a number have but a 
small piece of pine board to indicate where, in the future, monu- 
ments will be erected. 

Gen. Harney's grave is still unmarked by anything but a simple 
slab, and in many other instances friends and relatives of the de- 
ceased have deferred the placing of monuments over their graves 
until they can secure such memorials as they think worthy of 
their heroes. Among the large list of officers whose remains 
occupy these grounds are Capt. W. P. Mathews, a brevet colonel of 
volunteers ; Capt. Charles Stuart Heintzelman, Lieut.-Col. Theo- 
dor Sterling West, of the 24th Wisconsin Volunteers ; Lieut. E. 
B. Walkins, Col. Edgar O'Conner of the 2d Wisconsin Infantry ; 
Commander E. E. Stone, of the Navy; Maj. Samuel Perry Lee, 
of the Maine Volunteers ; Lieut. Thomas Goode Morrow, who 
was promoted from the ranks to a lieutenancy in the 11th Ohio 
Cavalry; Maj. H. J. Farnsworth, and many others. 

The second section of the grounds set apart for the interment 
of officers is separated from the northern part by a narrow road- 
way. In this section are found the names of some of the most 
distinguished officers of the United States Army who have recently 
died. Located at the upper end are the graves of Maj.- 
<jren. George Crook, Bvt. Maj. -Gen. W. W. Belknap, and Bvt. 
Brig.-Gen. W. W. Burns. None of these are marked by stones 
of any kind, but over the graves of Gens. Belknap and Burns 
monuments are to be erected, while the remains of Gen. Crook 
are soon to be removed to the slope in front of the mansion and 
buried near the grave of Sheridan. When this is done a hand- 
some stone will be placed over them. The most beautiful and 
artistic monument in this section is one of polished red marble. 


pyramidal in form, erected to the memory of Real Admiral Charles 
S. Stedman, who was born in South Carolina, September 24, 1811, 
and died November 13, 1890. The stone is tastefully lettered and 
bears upon one face an artistically-executed bit of carving, sym- 
bolic in character — a veiled sword. On the side faces are the 
words, full of significance in their brevity, " Fort Fisher, St. 
John's Bluff, Vera Cruz, Port Royal," the battles in which the 
hale old seaman participated. Other officers buried around him 
are N. B. Clark, chief engineer United States Navy ; M. La Rue 
Harrison, colonel First Arkansas Cavalry, and Col. P. H. AUa- 
bach, of the 13th Pennsylvania Infantry. 

Several old, time-scarred shafts and slabs of sandstone and 
marble, bearing quaint old epitaphs in antique lettering, in the 
upper part of the northern section devoted to officers, are among 
the most interesting monuments in the cemetery. They will at- 
tract the attention and probably arouse the curiosity of the visi- 
tor, as they bear the names of families prominent in the early 
colonial and revolutionary periods of American history. The 
dates of interment, moreover, are so old as to cause inquiry, as 
they all antedate the establishment of the national cemetery' by 
many years. These ancient stones cover the remains of officers 
of the Revolutionary army, and public officials of the early years 
of this century. The bodies and tombstones Avere removed to 
Arlington from the old Presbyterian burying-ground on the 
demolition of that cemetery, about a year ago. All bodies were 
ordered ren^oved from the consecrated precincts of the centur}^- 
old churchyard, and the National Government prevented the dese- 
cration of these old tombs by removing them to Arlington. They 
are eleven in number, four being marked by upright shafts and 
seven by oblong slabs laid flat upon the ground, in the fashion of 
the long ago. 

A red sandstone shaft stands over the remains of John A. Davis, 
lieutenant in the navy, who died in 1854. Next to this are a num- 
ber of slabs covering the graves of Caleb Swan, Paymaster-Gen- 
eral of the United States Army, who died in 1809 ; William Wood 
Burrows, lieutenant-colonel and commandant of the United States 
Marine Corps, whose death occurred in 1805 ; Margaret Cassin, 
the wife of Commodore Stephen Cassin, who di«d in 1830 ; Har- 
riet B. McComb, widow of Commander-in-Chief McGomb, of the 


United States Army ; James A. Wilson, a purser in the navy, who 
died in 1819 ; Gen. Thomas Mason, of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, 
who died in 1813, and Edward Jones, who was chief clerk of the 
Treasury Department under Washington's administration. 
A small marble shaft bears the inscription : 

General James House, U. S. A. 

He died in 1834. A small gray stone next to this was erected 
to the memory of Virginia, wife of George Mason, of Hallin Hall, 
Va. She was also a daughter of Gen. John Mason, and died in 
1838. The last of these tombstones is one erected to Alexander 
McComb and his wife, Jane Marshall, the former of whom died 
in 1830, and the latter in 1849. 

The general burying-ground, where thousands of dead Union 
soldiers lie, spreads over a level plateau that extends from the 
western wall of the cemetery to the mansion, and southward from 
the road to Fort Myer several hundred yards. Here there is a 
perfect grove of forest and ornamental trees, beneath the branches 
of which extend the long rows of glittering white headstones as 
far as the eye can reach. The headstones are all alike — simple 
marble slabs, rising about two feet from the ground and bearing 
the names and regiments of those whose graves they mark. The 
alignment of the stones is so perfect that they suggest the idea of 
regiments drawn up for inspection. 

As shown in the map that accompanies this work, the cemetery 
is divided into sections. Sections A and B are located in the ex- 
treme northwestern corner of the grounds, near the Ord and Weitzel 
gate, and, as already described, are separated from the main por- 
tion of the institution by a piece of heavy woodland. Sections 
C, D, E, and F occupy the plateau, the first commencing at the 
western wall, and the last one terminating on a line with the man- 
sion. These sections extend north and south. At the southern 
extremity of section C is located a space occupied entirely by 
graves of Confederate dead, and beside it is what is known as 
the post cemetery, where the bodies of those who die at Fort 
M5'er are interred. Near the post cemetery, and at the southern end 
of section D, is the " Sylvan Grove," a beautiful grove of maples, 
planted in rows and standing so close together that their branches, 
intermingling, form an unbroken canopy of foliage overhead. Be- 


yond these sections and the groves of trees in which they stand 
is an open level containing about a hundred acres of ground. At 
the end of this open space is the reconstructed earthwork, Fort 
McPherson, one of the most interesting points at Arlington. 

At the lower end of section F are located the graves of G. W. 
P. Custis and his wife. Thej are marked by two simple stone 
shafts, erected by their daughter, Mrs. R. E. Lee. These monu- 
ments form the only divergence from the monotonous style of 
gravestones that mark the graves of the dead soldiers to be found 
in the section. On the monument erected to Mr. Custis is the in- 
scription : 

Geoege Washington Paeke Custis. 

Born April 30, 1781. 

Died October 10, 1857. 

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." 

On the monument dedicated to the memory of Mrs. Custis are 
these words : 

Maby L. Cdstis. 
Born, April 22, 1788. 
Died, April 13, 1853. 

There is another interesting memorial of the Custis family on 
the hillside north of the mansion. It is an old tomb that con- 
tains the remains of Mrs. Mary Randolph, a relative of Mrs. Cus- 
tis. On it is the following inscription : 

Sacred to the memory of Mrs. Mary Randolph. 
Her intrinsic worth needs no euloginm. 
The deceased was born the 9th of August, 1762, at Ampthill, near Richmond, Vir- 
ginia, and died the 23d of January, 1828, in Washington city, 
a victim to maternal love and duty. 
As a tribute of filial gratitude this momument is dedicated to her exalted virtues 

by her youngest son. 
Requiescat in pace. 

This description is intended to convey to the mind of the reader 
some idea of the extent of the national cemetery and the location 
of the different sections into which it is divided. But, as already 
stated, interest in the historic old place centers about the mansion 
itself and the grounds immediately adjoining. Here assemble, 
annually, the veterans of the late war to deck with loving hands 
the graves of dead comrades. Here, also, words of fervent elo- 


quence are tittered in commemoration of the valor of those who 
fell in battle, and here the visitor finds most to attract attention. 

The mansion is surrounded by a broad driveway, smoothly 
paved, and from this well-kept walks lead in and out among beds 
of flowers. Directly south of the house is a large garden, in which 
the flower beds are arranged to represent badges of the different 
army corps. The names of Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Garfield, 
and others also appear in floral letters. 

In the centre of this plot stands what is known as the Temple 
of Fame. It is a circular structure and is composed of eight col- 
umns, surmounted by a dome, which rests on an octagonal cornice 
of stone-work. Set in this cornice are the names Washington, 
Lincoln, Grant, and Farragut. There is also an illustrious name 
on each of the pillars, as follows : McPherson, Sedgwick, Rey- 
nolds, Humphreys, Garfield, Mansfield, Thomas, and Meade. 

Immediately west of the Temple of Fame is the sarcophagus, 
which contains the remains of 2,111 unknown dead. This is one 
of the most touching sights at the national cemetery. The ob- 
long pile of granite, simple almost to rudeness in its design, has 
within it remains of those whose death is still a mystery to their 
friends and loving relatives. The bodies were picked up here 
and there upon the corpse-strewn battle-fields, and, unknown by 
any, were numbered among that large class that has never been 
identified. All that tells the story of their deaths is a simple 
inscription upon the stone telling why it was erected. Their val- 
orous deeds ; their sufferings ere death had come to give them 
their release ; even the honor which accrues to those who do 
their duty well, is in this case all comprehended in the sterile 
term, unknown. 

Just beyond the sarcophagus is the rostrum and the amphi- 
theatre, where the Decoration Day exercises are held. The ros- 
trum is a raised platform of stone, classical and picturesque in 
design. It resembles in appearance the remains of some old 
Grecian temple. An ornamental block of polished marble serves 
as a reading-desk, while twelve stone columns support a level 
roof of lattice-work, which is thickly covered with creeping vines. 
The amphitheatre is formed by a circular embankment of earth, 
which encloses a space large enough to contain about 1,500 
people. The earthen embankment is sheltered by trellis-work 


which supports luxuriant grape and other vines. The amphi- 
theatre and rostrum are used on Decoration Days, in the Grand 
Army services, and at these services at Arlington have been 
uttered some of the most eloquent Decoration Day addresses. 

So intimately connected with the national cemetery at Arling- 
ton is the observance of Memorial Day that a few pages devoted 
to a description of its origin and beautiful customs, with an ac- 
count of some of the most noted Decoration Day orations, must 
form a concomitant part of a complete history of Arlington. 



Decoration Day, with its customs, was the natural outcome of 
a nation's sorrow and gratitude. Nowhere is the origin of the cus- 
tom of strewing graves with flowers more beautifully described 
than in the eloquent and impressive address of Chauncey M. De- 
pew, delivered on the 30th of May, 1879, when he said : 

When the war was over, in the South, where under warmer skies and with more 
poetic temperaments symbols and emblems are better understood than in the 
practical North, the widows, mothers, and children of the Confederate dead went 
out and strewed their graves with flowers ; at many places the women scattered 
them impartially also over the unknown and unmarked resting-places of the 
Union soldiers. As the news of this touching tribute flashed over the North it 
roused, as nothing else could have done, national amity and love, and allayed sec- 
tional animosity and passion. It thrilled every household where there was a vacant 
chair by the fireside and an aching void in the heart for a lost hero whose remains 
had never been found ; old wounds broke out afresh, and in a mingled tempest of 
grief and joy the family cried, " Maybe it was our darling ! " Thus out of sorrows 
common alike to North and South came this beautiful custom. But Decoration 
Day no longer belongs to those who mourn. It is the common privilege of us all, 
and will be celebrated as long as gratitude exists and flowers bloom. 

John S. Wise, in a speech some years ago, declared that the 
tenderest and most touching legacy of the war was that sentiment 
of common pity and humanity to which the women gave expres- 
sion in a Southern cemetery when they decked the graves of Con- 
federate and of Federal soldiers with impartial hand. 

The idea was at first rather slow at taking root, but the Grand 
Army posts throughout the Union adopted the custom as a pecu- 
liar and legitimate function of the organization, and by common 
consent fixed upon the 30th of May as a day upon which they 
should pay tribute to their lost comrades with the fresh, pure 
blossoms of the vernal month. 

The custom of honoring the memory of fallen heroes by the 
proper observance of Memorial Day has since its inaugura- 
tion added to the literary treasures of America a number of burn- 


ing, eloquent orations that will always stand forth as specimens 
of the best efforts of our country's greatest orators. Foremost 
among these must undoubtedly be placed the address of Col. 
Eobert G. IngersoU delivered on Decoration Day at Indianapolis, 
before the " Boys in Blue," an organization which has since been 
merged into the Grand Army of the Kepublic. 

It followed soon after the splendid and instantaneous fame 
which he gained as an orator by the speech in placing Mr. Blaine 
in nomination and added greatly to that oratorical repute. Col. 
IngersoU said some years later that it was not true, as had been 
reported, that the address was impromptu. The writing of it had 
required only a few moments, but the composition of it had been 
a matter of years. After his service in the army Col. IngersoU 
used to recall, with poetic enthusiasm, scenes which, when they 
occurred, had seemingly not made much impression on his mind. 
He remembered his comrades who had fallen, and recalled some 
pathetic incident of army life. The magnificent patriotism of 
the time was revealed to him, after the battles had been fought 
and the Union established, in the light of the poetic fancy that 
characterizes IngersoU's best orations, and there came to his mind 
now and then epigrams, kernels of thought expressed in the 
imagery of the poet, and he retained them in his memory. Thus 
little by little he composed that speech. It was the work of years, 
and when he was invited to deliver the address he found that the 
address was ready to be delivered and only awaited the occa- 

The quotation already given, descriptive of the origin of Me- 
morial Day, is from the notable Decoration Day address of 
Chauncey M. Depew, delivered at the Metropolitan Opera House 
in 1879. Depew had a magnificent audience. He had accepted 
the invitation rather reluctantly, but as he began preparing his 
address he became fascinated Avith his subject. Many of those 
who have heard Depew are of the opinion that it \^as the finest 
oration ever delivered by hini. It differed entirely from the ad- 
dress of IngersoU, which was really a prose poem. Depew's 
address was the speech of a statesman inspired to lofty and solemn 
sentiments through the contemplation of the heroes whose achieve- 
ments he was to celebrate. Col. IngersoU, who heard the address, 
pronounced it one of the finest specimens of eulogy every deliv- 
ered by an American. 


Perhaps one of the most noteworthy of Decoration Day ad- 
dresses was delivered by Gen. Garfield at Arlington. Many of 
those who heard it were familiar with Garfield's oratory. He was 
singularly felicitous when speaking on a subject involving the 
higher order of sentiment, and in the Arlington address he reached 
probably his finest oratorical achievement, at least on a subject 
not political. 

After all, bearing in mind the great orations that have been de- 
livered on Decoration Day or on the occasions of the dedications 
of Federal cemeteries, no effort can be compared with the brief 
address delivered by President Lincoln on the 19th of November, 
1863, at the dedication of the national cemetery at Gettysburg. 
Decoration Day was unknown then. The war was not over. 
Grant had not been long the commanding General. It was in- 
tended to make the Gettysburg ceremonial a conspicuous event, to 
fix the eyes of the North upon it, and, if possible, inspire those 
who were fighting for the Union with new hopes and firmer pur- 
poses. For that reason President Lincoln consented to go to Get- 
tysburg, and, as he said, say something appropriate to the occasion. 
The orator of the day was Edward Everett, one of the greatest of 
American orators. Mr. Everett prepared his oration with greater 
care than he had been accustomed to bestow on his previous ad- 
dresses. No orator ever took more pains with the composition of 
his speeches or more patiently drilled himself with respect to the 
elocution and oratorical graces that should embellish delivery. 
Mr. Everett believed that the Gettysburg address was to be the 
oration of his life, and the one, perhaps, by which he would be 
best known to posterity. 

President Lincoln, on the contrary, spent no time on the com- 
position of his address, and it may almost be called an impromptu. 

The story of its preparation has been told by Mr. Edward Mc- 
Pherson, who, as a member of Congress, representing the Gettys- 
burg district, escorted President Lincoln from Washington to 
Gettysburg. The President seemed to be in one of his moods of 
sorrow when they entered the cars, and McPherson, who was fa- 
miliar with Mr. Lincoln's varying expressions of countenance, 
thought that the President was burdened that day with a sense of 
mighty responsibilities, and was saddened by the reflection that 
the struggle to maintain the Union had cost hundreds of thousands 


of lives. After leaving Baltimore Mr. Lincoln seemed to brighten 
up, and he took from his pocket two or three sheets of commer- 
cial note-paper, on which had been written with lead pencil* what 
seemed to be some fragmentary comments. Mr. Lincoln took out 
his glasses, read the memoranda, and made one or two trifling 
corrections. - He said that he had jotted down a few things which 
had occurred to him to say, because it was expected, he be- 
lieved, that he would say something. He was inclined to think 
that Mr. Everett's oration would , be in every way worthy of the 
event, and he spoke in praise of Everett as a patriot and an ora- 
tor. When the time came for Mr. Lincoln to deliver his address 
he rose, put on his spectacles, took the few sheets of note-paper 
from his pocket, and read the address in that manner of his which 
at first sight seemed almost ungainly and became impressive as he 
proceeded with his speech. Comparatively few of the great throng 
present were able to hear it. Most of those who did were not 
especially impressed by the speech ; but a few men realized that 
they had listened to an address which was sure to become a 
classic, and, perhaps, would be regarded as the most perfect ex- 
ample of English prose address ever produced by an American. 

Mr. Everett's oration was stately, dignified, elegant, but formal. 
He had written it on the models of the best English and Ameri- 
can orations, and had pronounced it according to the rules of elo- 
cution. It sounded weU ; it was impressive when heard, but it 
has been forgotten practically. Nearly a month passed before the 
country realized what a gem of oratory Mr. Lincoln's address was. 
It was so short that less than ten minutes were required for the 
reading of it, and, being short, was published in almost every 
newspaper in the country. Men recognized its extraordinary 
merits. James Russell Lowell pronounced it in sublimity of 
thought, appropriateness of ideas, solemnity of sentiment, and 
purity of English the finest specimen of oratory, English or Amer- 
ican, and that view was reiterated by the English critics. It fur- 
nished the ideas for thousands of Decoration Day addresses 
which have since been delivered^ and it has been utilized by the 
professors of rhetoric in schools and colleges. Mr. Lincoln was 
astonished when he learned the opinion of the ablest men regard- 
ing the oration, and he could only explain the exalted view taken 
of it by saying he had spoken as he felt. 


The oration is as follows : 

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a 
new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men 
are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that 
nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are 
met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of 
that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that the nation 
might live. It is altogether fitting and jiroper that we should do this. But, in a 
larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we cannot consecrate — we cannot hallow — this 
ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated 
it far above our poor power to add or detract. 

The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can 
never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedi- 
cated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so 
nobly advanced. It is, rather, for us to be here dedicated to the great task re- 
maining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to 
that cause to which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here 
highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under 
God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by 
the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. 

The following extract is from the address of Col. IngersoU 
heretofore referred to : 

The past rises before me like a dream. Again we are in the great struggle for 
national life. We hear the sound of preparation — the music of the boisterous 
drums — the silver voices of heroic bugles. We see thousands of assemblages and 
hear the appeals of orators ; we see the pale cheeks of women and the flushed 
faces of men ; and in those assemblages we see all the dead whose dust we have 
covered with flowers. We lose sight of them no more. We are with them when 
they enlist in the great army of freedom. We see them part with those they love. 
Some are walking for the last time in quiet woody places with the maidens they 
adore. We hear the whisperings and the sweet vows of eternal love as they linger- 
ingly part forever. Othei-s are bending over cradles kissing babes that are asleep. 
Some are receiving the blessings of old men. Some are parting with mothers who 
hold them and press them to their hearts again and again, and say nothing ; and 
some are talking with wives, and endeavoring with brave words spoken in the old 
tones to drive away the awful fear. We see them part. We see the wife stand- 
ing in the door with the babe in her arms— standing in the sunlight — at the turn 
of the road a hand waves — she answers by holding high in her loving hands the 
child. He is gone, and forever. 

We see them all as they march proudly away under the flaunting flags, keep- 
ing time to the wild grand music of war — marching down the streets of the great 
cities — through the towns and across the prairies — down to the fields of glory to 
do and to die for eternal right. 

We go with them one and all. We are by their side on all the gory fields, in 
all the hospitals of pain, on all the weary marches. 

We stand guard with them in the wild storm and under the quiet stars. We 
are with them in ravines running with blood — in the furrows of old fields. We are 
with them between contending hosts, unable to move, wild with thirst, the life- 


blood ebbing slowly away among the withered leaves. We see them pierced by 
balls and torn with shells in the trenches of forts, and in the whirlwind of the 
charge, where men became iron with nerves of steel. 

We are with them in the prisons of hatred and famine, but human speech caa 
never tell what they endured. 

We are at home when the news comes that they are dead. We see the maiden 
in the shadow of her sorrow. We see the silvered head of the old man bowed with 
the lost grief. 

The past rises before us, and we see four millions of human beings governed by 
the lash — we see them bound hand and foot — we hear the strokes of cruel whips — 
we see the hounds tracking women through tangled swamps. We see babes sold 
from the breasts of mothers. Cruelty unspeakable. Outrage infinite I 

Four million bodies in chains — four million souls in fetters. All the sacred re- 
lations of wife, mother, father, and child trampled beneath the brutal feet of 
might, and all this was done under our own beautiful banner of the free. 

The past rises before us. We hear the roar and shriek of the bursting shell. 
The broken fetters fall. There heroes died. We look. Instead of slaves we see 
men and women and children. The wand of progress touches the auction-block, 
the slave-pen, and the whipping-post, and we see homes and firesides, and school- 
houses and books, and where all was want and crime and cruelty and fear we see 
the faces of the free. 

These heroes are dead. They died for liberty — they died for us. They are at 
i-est. They sleep in the land they made free, under the flag they rendered stain- 
less, under the solemn pines, the sad hemlocks, the tearful willows, the embrac- 
ing vines. They sleep beneath the shadows of the clouds, careless alike of sun- 
shine or storm, each in the windowless palace of rest. Earth may run red with 
other wars — they are at peace. In the midst of battle, in the roar of conflict, they 
found the serenity of death. I have one sentiment for the soldiers living and 
dead — cheers for the living and tears for the dead. 

Among the familiar sights of Washington are the long, black 
lines of crows that every evening in winter are seen flying in 
sombre silence from out the northeast toward their nests in the 
forest wilds at Arlington. The gathering of these black cohorts 
among the trees in the city of the dead is cleverly described in the 
following bit of word-painting, by Philander Stansbury, in " Short 
Stories :" 

The Black Crows of Arlington. 

We stand upon the terraced heights of Fort Myer, having the wide- 
spread panorama of Washington before us. Between us and the city 
lies the broad river, now glowing with the last rays of the setting 
sun, and mirroring in its glassy surface the tall, white shaft of the 
peerless monument. At our feet, almost, rise the stately tops of 
the oaks of Arlington — the camp of the dead. To these oaks 
comes every evening at sunset a countless army of crows, to 


bivouac in safety and peace beneath the protection of the National 

Are they the spirits of those whose bones are mouldering be- 
neath those serried ranks of ugly contract stones ? 

Who knows ? 

Silently they gather from every point. From the horizon 
banked with rosy-tinted clouds, they gradually emerge in twos and 
threes, in tens, in companies, in regiments, in brigades, in divisions, 
all converging upon the common rendezvous, the oaks of Ar- 

Now. all but a few belated birds have reached the well-beloved 
spot, and, settling down among the lofty tree-tops, they clamor, 
man-like, for space, where space is ample for a thousand times 
their number. At their jioise is stilled, and, as the sun's 
red face sinks from *ight' "befhind the distant hills, the hush of 
evening settles upon the scene. .' ^-. 

Now from the fort behind us breaks out the bugle call which 
marks the close of yet another day, and then a flash, and the deep 
sound of the sunset gun goes booming out over the placid river 
and echoes back to us from the purpling hills beyond. At the 
sound, with a wild clamor like that of suffering souls in purga- 
tory, the whole of that sable army »isje from their places among 
the trees, and, circling hurriedly through. the air, give vent in loud 
caws to their surprise and terror. 

But soon they sink again to their accustomed roost. 

The last flush fades from the western horizon. 

The evening star emerges, phoenix-like, from the dying glory of 
the sun. 

The spirit of silence descends upon the pkce. The dead of 
Arlington may rest in peace. 


Return to desk from which borrowed. 
This book is DUE on the last date stamped below. 




T W^^^^ 

REC'D l6 

REC'DLD ^^ 8 19675 7 




LD 21-100m-ll,'49(B71468l6)476 


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