The 639 scenic, tranquil acres that comprise Arlington National Cemetery were once owned by George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted grandson of our nation’s first president and the father-in-law of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The Union army seized the property at the outset of the Civil War to defend the capital.
Custis’s grandson, George Washington Custis Lee, pursued legal avenues to reclaim the land in 1870, which he argued were confiscated illegally. In 1882, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Lee. By this time, the property had already become sacred ground for over 6,000 Union soldiers. Knowing that he could no longer live or operate a plantation there, Lee sold the property back to the government in 1883.
Over 3 million people visit Arlington National Cemetery annually to honor the 400,000 soldiers buried there, representing all our nation’s wars. In addition, military nurses, doctors, chaplains, and war correspondents call it their final resting place as well.
So do over 4,000 former slaves who lived in Freedman’s Village, originally a refugee camp set up on the property during the Civil War that evolved into a thriving community following the war. In addition, three prisoners of war from WWII who died while being held captive — one German, two Italians — are interred there, too.
More than 2,000 bodies lie beneath the Tomb of the Civil War Unknowns. Three bodies lie beneath the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, one from each world war and one from the Korean War. There had been a fourth for over a decade, from the Vietnam War, but no longer. No resurrection … just DNA identification, exhumation, and relocation to the soldier’s home state. Amazing, yes, but not quite a miracle. There is no doubt when you walk around Arlington National Cemetery that you are in the land of heros.