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Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Memorial
Location: Arlington, Virginia, USA
Coordinates: 38°52′52″N 77°4′22″W / 38.88111°N 77.07278°W / 38.88111; -77.07278Coordinates: 38°52′52″N 77°4′22″W / 38.88111°N 77.07278°W / 38.88111; -77.07278
Area: 27.9 acres (11.3 ha)
Built/Founded: 1803
Architect: George Hadfield
Architectural style(s): Greek Revival
Visitation: 466,690 (2007)
Governing body: National Park Service
Added to NRHP: October 15, 1966[1]
NRHP Reference#: 66000040

Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, also known as the Custis-Lee Mansion,[2][3] is a Greek revival style mansion located in Arlington, Virginia, USA and was once the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It overlooks the Potomac River, directly across from the National Mall in Washington, D.C. During the American Civil War, the grounds of the mansion were selected as the site of Arlington National Cemetery, in part to ensure that Lee would never again be able to return to his home. However, the United States has since designated the mansion as a National Memorial to its former opponent, a mark of widespread respect for him in both the North and South.

Contents

Construction and early history

Arlington House from a pre-1861 sketch, published in 1875

The mansion was built on the orders of George Washington Parke Custis, a step-grandson of George Washington. Custis was the most prominent resident of what was then known as Alexandria County, a part of the District of Columbia.

Arlington House was built on an 1,100 acre (445 ha) estate, originally purchased by Custis' father, John Parke Custis, in 1778.[4] George Washington Parke Custis decided to build his home on the property in 1802, following the death of Martha Washington and three years after the death of George Washington. Custis originally wanted to name the property "Mount Washington", but was persuaded by family members to name it "Arlington House" after the Custis family's homestead on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.[5]

George Hadfield, an English architect who also worked on the design of the United States Capitol designed the mansion. The north and south wings were completed between 1802 and 1804. The large center section and the portico, presenting an imposing front 140 ft(43 m) long, were finished 13 years later. The house has two kitchens, a summer and a winter. The most prominent features of the house are the 8 massive columns of the portico, each 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter.

In his day, Custis was the most prominent resident of what was then known as Alexandria County, and the house was host to many of the famous men of the era, including Gilbert du Motier, marquis de La Fayette, who visited in 1824. At Arlington, Custis experimented with new methods of animal husbandry and other agriculture. The property also included Arlington Spring, a picnic ground on the banks of the Potomac that Custis originally built for private use but later opened to the public, eventually operating it as a commercial enterprise.

Custis' only child to survive to adulthood was Mary Anna Randolph Custis. Young Robert E. Lee, whose mother was a cousin of Mrs. Custis, frequently visited Arlington. Two years after graduating from West Point, Lieutenant Lee married Mary Custis at Arlington on June 30, 1831. For 30 years Arlington House was home to the Lees. They spent much of their married life traveling between U.S. Army duty stations and Arlington, where six of their seven children were born. They shared this home with Mary's parents, the Custises.

When George Washington Parke Custis died in 1857, he left the Arlington estate to Mrs. Lee for her lifetime and afterwards to the Lees' eldest son, George Washington Custis Lee. The estate needed much repair and reorganization, and Lee, as executor, took a leave of absence from the Army until 1860 to begin the necessary agricultural and financial improvements.

Civil War

The second floor bedroom shared by Lee and his wife has been restored to appear as it would have to them. A replica of Lee's U.S. Army uniform is seen on the bed.

At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Virginia seceded from the Union. Colonel Robert E. Lee, who at that time had served in the U.S. Army for 35 years, was offered command of the Union Army. Lee had disapproved of secession, but felt that he could not turn his back on the citizens of Virginia, his native state. Instead of accepting the Union command, he decided to resign his commission in the army, which he did in writing while still residing in the home. After his resignation, Lee reported for duty in Richmond, as commander of the Virginia Provisional Army. He soon joined the Confederate States Army and was promoted to general. Lee was concerned for the safety of his wife who was still residing at the mansion and convinced her to vacate the property, at least temporarily. She managed to send some of the family valuables off to safety. Neither Robert E. Lee nor his wife were ever to set foot on the property again.

Federal forces occupied Lee's property within a month after Fort Sumter and used it as a headquarters for officers supervising some of the forts that were part of the defenses of Washington. Many of the remaining family possessions were moved to the Patent Office for safekeeping. Some items, however, including a few of the Mount Vernon heirlooms, had already been looted and scattered.

By 1864, the military cemeteries of Washington and Alexandria were filled with Union dead, and Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs quickly selected Arlington as the site for a new cemetery. Meigs, a Georgian who had served under Lee in the U.S. Army and who hated his fellow Southerners who were fighting against the Union, ordered that graves be placed just outside the front door of the mansion, to prevent the Lees from ever returning. Meigs himself supervised the burial of 26 Union soldiers in Mrs. Lee's rose garden. In October, Meigs' own son was killed in the war, and he too was buried at Arlington.

Post-war

The federal government had confiscated the mansion property, in 1864, claiming that property taxes had not been paid. Robert E. Lee and his wife never legally challenged the return of the home. In 1870, after his father's death, George Washington Custis Lee, the eldest son of Robert E. Lee, filed a lawsuit in the Alexandria Circuit Court which resulted in a later Supreme Court decision in 1882 awarding Custis Lee just compensation for the house and 1,100 acres (4 km2). Lee originally asked for $300,000, however, the court only awarded $150,000 (about $3,200,000 in today's money), considered the fair market value of the property.

In 1920, the Virginia General Assembly renamed Alexandria County as Arlington County, to honor Robert E. Lee and to end the ongoing confusion between Alexandria County and the independent city of Alexandria.

In 1925, the War Department began to restore the mansion, and control of the mansion was transferred to the National Park Service in 1933. Congress designated the mansion as a memorial to Lee in 1955, and it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.

Today, the mansion is managed by the National Park Service as a memorial to Robert E. Lee while the land surrounding the mansion, known as Arlington National Cemetery, is managed by the Department of the Army.

Notes

References

  • Peters, James Edward (1986). Arlington National Cemetery: Shrine to America's Heroes. Woodbine House. ISBN 1890627143. 
  • The National Parks: Index 2001-2003. Washington: U.S. Department of the Interior.

External links

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