May 13, 1864
As the Civil War rages, a young soldier is laid to rest on land already home to so many stories — and so begins a new chapter of what we now know as Arlington National Cemetery.
- Formerly “Arlington Estates.”
- Arlington Estates honored Pres. George Washington. Washington’s step-grandson owned the property and left it to his daughter, who later married Robert E. Lee (General of the Confederate Army).
- The Lees left Arlington as the Civil War began and the Union Army took over the property; they first built strategic forts there to defend Washington D.C. before eventually using it as a burial site. The U.S. Army still maintains its oversight.
The First Soldiers Buried
- May 13, 1864: Pvt. William Henry Christman, who died of measles only weeks after volunteering to serve his home state of Pennsylvania.
- Other notable burials that month: The first draftee (Pvt. William Reeves, 76th New York Infantry) and first battle casualty (Pvt. William Blatt, 49th Pennsylvania Infantry).
- June 15, 1864: The U.S. Army, needing more burial space as the war’s death toll rises, declares the property a military cemetery. The war ends less than a year later, in April 1865.
Did You Know?
1863: A portion of Arlington, which had once been a plantation, becomes “Freedman’s Village” — “a planned community for freed slaves.” The community of 1,500 people includes schools, a hospital, and churches. In 1900, the U.S. government closes the village and folds the land into the growing national cemetery.
1874: Robert E. Lee’s son sues the U.S. government for illegally seizing his family’s property — and in 1882, he WINS. The federal government then purchases the property from the Lee family for the equivalent of $4 million.
Today the cemetery is known as the final resting place for 400,000+ service members and their eligible dependents from every U.S. war, ranging from the American Revolution to Iraq and Afghanistan — including former U.S. presidents, astronauts, Supreme Court Justices and remains still unidentified. More than two dozen burials take place every weekday.
Arlington National Cemetery (NPS.gov)
by Jenna Lee,