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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.
By KARL DECKER and ANGUS McSWEEN.
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.
printers and bookbinders.
washington d. c.
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-
Chapter IV . . . . . . . . . . . 44
Lee at Arlington — Genealogy and early career — His service in the
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
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
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-
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
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.
THE FOUNDING OF ARLINGTON AND EAELY LIFE OF CU8TIS.
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
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
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
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-
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
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
" 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
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
CUSTIS' LIFE AT ARLINGTON — HIS ASSOCIATES AND CUSTOMS — THE
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
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
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
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
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
" 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
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
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.
LEE AT ARLINGTON GENEALOGY AND EARLY CAREER — HIS SERVICE IN
THE MEXICAN WAR.
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
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
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
His neglected grave is but a short distance from the now dis-
mantled mansion, in a wildly overgrown garden of magnolias and
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
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
SEIZURE AND OCCUPATION OF ARLINGTON BY FEDERAL FORCES — THE
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
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
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
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
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.
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE NATIONAL CEMETERY — BODIES OF SOLDIERS
COLLECTED ON THE BATTLE-FIELDS AND BURIED 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
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 government's TITLE TO ARLINGTON AND HOW OBTAINED — IN-
TERESTING LEGAL DOCUMENTS.
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
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
This will, written by my hand, is signed, sealed, and executed the twenty-sixth
day of March, eighteen hundred and fifty-five.
GEORGE WASHINGTON PARKE CUSTIS. [seal.]
26th March, 1855.
Mabtha Custis Williams.
M. EUGKNE WeBSTEB.
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.
MARY CUSTIS LEE.
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-
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 NATIONAL CEMETERY — A GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF ARLINGTON,
WITH AN ACCOUNT OF SOME OF THE DISTINGUISHED SOLDIERS
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
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
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
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
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-
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
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 AND ITS CUSTOMS — SOME NOTED ORATIONS — LINCOLN'S
GETTYSBURG ADDRESS — INGERSOLL's PROSE-POEM OVER THE
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
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
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 leng.th 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 spirit of silence descends upon the pkce. The dead of
Arlington may rest in peace.
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA LIBRARY
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