On this day in history, June 15, 1864, Arlington National Cemetery, our nation’s honorable military burial ground, was officially established.
The national cemetery began with the seizure of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s hilltop home after he defected to the Confederacy during the Civil War, notes History.com.
The cemetery’s origins in Virginia go back to just before the Civil War.
Lee, a native Virginian, reportedly spent the night in his then-home, Arlington Estate, as he deliberated whether to lead the Union Army — or fight for his home state’s Confederacy.
He resigned from the U.S. Army on April 20, 1861, the same source stated.
“With the high hilltop position overlooking Washington, D.C., Lee knew the Union forces were likely to seize the property.”
“With the high hilltop position overlooking Washington, D.C., Lee knew the Union forces were likely to seize the property, which was in a mostly rural area at the time.”
Although Mrs. Lee first resisted, she accepted the inevitable Union takeover of the family estate.
By the end of the Civil War, 16,000 graves filled the spaces close to Arlington House, the same source recounts.
Within a year, more than 5,000 soldiers, mainly privates, were buried there.
Gen. Meigs, who died on Jan. 2, 1892, was laid to rest at Arlington, along with his wife, father and son, says the Library of Congress.
A bird flies away as a U.S. Army bugler plays taps during a full-honors funeral at Arlington National Cemetery in November 2014. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Arlington became a segregated cemetery, just like all national cemeteries at the time. It remained segregated by race and rank until 1948, when President Harry S. Truman desegregated the military, says the official site of Arlington National Cemetery.
The first official “Decoration Day,” later renamed Memorial Day, was held at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868.
This tradition continues today — and is one reason that Arlington went from being one of many national cemeteries and became the premier national military cemetery, says Arlington National Cemetery’s official site.
Another important milestone in the cemetery’s history is the creation of The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1921, with interment of the Unknown from World War I, the same site recounted.
Today, the cemetery comprises 639 acres. Some 400,000 veterans and their eligible dependents are interred, noted History.com.