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We visited Arlington National Cemetery January 1. My father told us where he would like to be planted if the authorities let us choose. Hopefully this won’t be for a long time yet, though after that walk up the hill to Arlington House…. Anyway, the house was closed for the Fed holiday, but the view is worth it and makes you proud of our Capitol. Note that the Lincoln Memorial is a most prominent feature of the view.

Many think the house was renamed Arlington House from Lee Mansion post-War, but Arlington House is the original pre-Civil War name for the house. Lee Mansion is a later nickname; NPS calls it Arlington House: The Robert E. Lee Memorial.

“George Washington Parke Custis built the house to be his home and a memorial to George Washington, his step-grandfather.” (NPS site)

RE Lee married Mary Custis, GWP Custis’s daughter. His in-laws, who might be called flaky today, resisted him at first, but ended up glad to get a level-headed person in the family.

Lee spent much time away from his marriage home on military deployments. Eventually, though, it fell to him to run the property. Much as he loved the place, neither his past as a city boy in Alexandria nor his training as a military engineer and West Point graduate shaped him to cope with running a plantation. He found managing the slaves especially irksome; the bitterness of racial prejudice was not sweetened in his outlook by the familial sentiments entertained by other plantation owners, indeed by his wife and even by a few of the enslaved people.

Nearly as soon as Virginia seceded, the Union army occupied the property. Mary Custis Lee never stopped lamenting for the house, its furnishings, the ancient groves cut down for firewood.

Many tears are still shed around the old house. Rows and rows of graves force on the visitor how much at war we have been in the last 150 years, and the prayer that we remain united, never to war with each other again.

Sources: On RE Lee: Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s, Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters.

ETA: Since this post, my father passed away and is now at rest in Arlington National Cemetery under a beautiful old cedar tree… Though they didn’t give him his first choice area; it was already full.


  1. Bill

    I’m currently plowing through Douglas Southall Freeman’s R.E. Lee (vol. 1), and Arlington & his in-laws are mentioned frequently. Mary Custis Lee, it is noted, was rarely on time and was haphazard in her attire & grooming, once getting so vexed with her hair that she chopped it off.

    • Jean Huets

      That must’ve tweaked his orderly soul. I get the impression that Lee had more tolerance for the murderous chaos of battle than for domestic untidiness.

  2. Pingback:National Cemetery headstones – and another tale of two brothers | Leaves of Grass

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