Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

A handsome 1,100-acre parcel, crowned by Arlington House, perched majestically on an undulating hilltop overlooking the historic Potomac River, is the apt site for Arlington National Cemetery, that American locus of selfless heroism and sacrifice.At present, there are more than 200,000 gravesites in Arlington National, which is one of 100 national cemeteries in the United States, but only one of two administered by the U.S. Army. As the population of the cemetery has grown, so has interest in visiting the cemetery, not only by family members, but from the rising tide of patriotism in the U.S., spurred by the galvanizing effect of September 11, 2001.Each May 30, the "official" Memorial Day, small American flags grace each gravesite in a tribute to those fallen in battle, in the cause of freedom and independence. Arlington National Cemetery maintains its traditional observance on May 30.Although hours vary, the Arlington cemetery is open year round with "Taps" being played at dusk by the bugler of Company B.A brief historyThe now-internationally known tract of land was not originally intended to be a cemetery. George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted grandson of George Washington and maternal grandmother, Martha Washington, built Arlington House as a memorial to the nation's first president. He had inherited the plot from his father at the age of three.Construction on the Greek revival-style mansion was accomplished in three parts, starting with the north wing, which was finished in 1802 and served as the Custis family household. In all, it took Custis 16 years to complete, including eight massive columns five feet in diameter, which comprised the exterior portico.The Custis's only surviving child, a daughter Mary Ann Custis, married Robert E. Lee, a childhood friend and distant cousin, in 1831. Custis Lee.The Lees were forced to abandon their home in 1861, when the Civil War broke out, and lost it to the government for unpaid taxes. The area was turned into a cemetery, as suggested by Union Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs.After the war, a suit was filed that reached the United States Supreme Court. The matter was settled by paying him an indemnity of $150,000.The first military burial was that of Private William Henry Christman on May 13, 1864.The tombThe Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was established in 1921 on the Arlington grounds, to honor a fallen soldier of World War I. The inscription reads, "Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God."This was repeated after World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, with the gravesite's name changed to the Tomb of the Unknowns. The crypt is empty and now inscribed with the words: "In memory and keeping faith with American servicemen still missing."Better-known occupants in ANCIt is not just the rich and famous that are interred here. They include, in alphabetical order:

  • General "Hap" Arnold — architect of America's Air Force
  • Colonel "Pappy" Boyington — "Flying Tigers" ace
  • General Omar Bradley — the "soldiers' general" of World War II
  • William Jennings Bryan — orator/prosecutor in the Scopes Monkey Trial
  • Admiral Richard Byrd — arctic and antarctic explorer
  • "Pete" Conrad — astronaut, third man to walk on the moon
  • General Jimmy Doolittle — ace pilot/leader of the "Doolittle Raid" on Tokyo
  • General Abner Doubleday — Union Civil War general falsely credited with inventing baseball
  • Medgar Evers — civil rights leader
  • Virgil "Gus" Grissom — astronaut, died in a fire aboard Apollo I spacecraft
  • Admiral William "Bull" Halsey — World War II naval warrior and leader
  • Dashiell Hammett — author, The Maltese Falcon/served in both world wars
  • Robert Peary — with Mathew Henson reached the North Pole
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes — Supreme Court Justice
  • Juliet Hopkins — "Florence Nightingale" of the South during Civil War
  • John F. Kennedy — President of the United States/assassinated November 1963
  • Charles L'Enfant — designed the layout for Washington, D.C.
  • Joe Louis — the "Brown Bomber," heavyweight boxing champion
  • General George Marshall — architect of the Marshall Plan
  • Thurgood Marshall — first black justice on the Supreme Court
  • Glenn Miller — Big Band director
  • General Montgomery Meigs
  • Audie Murphy — Congressional Medal of Honor honoree/later a Hollywood star
  • James Parks — former slave, dug the first graves in Arlington National
  • Admiral Robert Peary — co-discovered North Pole
  • General John "Black Jack" Pershing
  • John Wesley Powell — first to explore the Grand Canyon
  • Walter Reed — discovered cure for Yellow Fever
  • Albert Sabin — developed an oral polio vaccine
  • General Philip Sheridan — ruthless Civil War warrior on the Union side
  • William Howard Taft — President of the United States/Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
  • The 612-acre site also contains the Confederate Monument, the remains of the seven Challenger space shuttle crewmembers, and nearly 8,000 unknowns, most of whom were from the Civil War. In addition, more than 60 foreign nationals, some of whom died of natural causes while prisoners of the U.S. military, are buried here.

    Arlington National Cemetery - History

    The land on which Arlington is located has a long and historic weave. It was originally owned by the Custis family and eventually was passed along to George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted son of George Washington. G.W.P. Custis began building what is now called "The Custis-Lee Mansion" in order to have a facility in which to store momentous of his adopted grandfather, George Washington. Many of Washington's prized possessions, including his battle tents from the Revolutionary War, were maintained and displayed here for years and the rich and powerful were frequent visitors to the estate. When Custis died, he willed the property to his daughter, Mary. She eventually married a young Army officer, Robert E. Lee, and Arlington became their home until the outbreak of the Civil War.

    How Did Arlington Become A Cemetery?

    Arlington was for many years the estate of Colonel Robert E. Lee. Lee had graduated at the top of his class at West Point and had faithfully served his nation as an Army Officer throughout the Mexican War and then in Engineering and Cavalry assignments throughout our young nation. At the onset of the Civil War, after first refusing the command of all Union forces, he volunteered his services to his home state of Virginia. During the course of the war, his former estate was seized by the Union Army, which made it a headquarters. In 1864, with Union dead piling up throughout the Washington area, the search for a suitable site for a military cemetery resulted in a recommendation from Major General Montgomery Cunningham Meigs (the Union Quartermaster General) that Lee's former estate be converted to a burial ground. Meigs, a Southern native, had remained loyal to the Union and reportedly hated Lee for his service to the Confederate cause. Out of the death and destruction of the Civil War, and from this personal hatred, was born Arlington National Cemetery.

    Click Here For A Brief History Of Arlington National Cemetery
    Click Here For Historic Photos Of Arlington National Cemetery
    Click Here For A 1903 Arlington National Cemetery Booklet
    Click Here For The 1949 Armistice Day Program At Arlington National Cemetery
    Click Here For A Brochure About The Lee Mansion National Memorial, 1953
    Click Here For A 1934 Souvenir Folder Of Arlington National Cemetery
    Click Here For A 1920s Arlington National Cemetery Tour Booklet
    Click Here For The 1928 National Geographic Article "Fame's Eternal Camping Ground"
    Click Here For Press Coverage of the Burial of Spanish-American War Casualties: 6 April 1899
    The History of the Sheridan Gate At Arlington National Cemetery

    Explore U.S. History at our Nation’s Most Hallowed Ground

    Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) is considered America’s most hallowed ground and a sacred shrine to service and sacrifice. More than 400,000 people are laid to rest at ANC including former presidents, astronauts, civil rights activists, medical professionals, and prominent military figures.

    ANC recently launched an education program for students, families, and lifelong learners. The program aims to honor the sacrifices and extraordinary lives of American service members and their families, support remembrance of the past and present military conflicts and circumstances surrounding them, and invite personal exploration of connections to America’s diverse history. As the school year draws to a close, this program provides a great summer learning opportunity to explore and discover U.S. history through the unique lens of ANC.

    The ANC education program highlights four educational themes:

    The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is ANC’s most iconic memorial. For nearly 100 years, it has stood at the heart of the cemetery, serving as a site for reflection on service, valor, and sacrifice. The Tomb sarcophagus stands above the grave of an Unknown Soldier from World War I, buried when the Tomb was dedicated on November 11, 1921. Two additional crypts, for Unknowns from World War II and the Korean War, were added in 1958. The Unknowns represent all unidentified service members who gave their lives for the United States.

    A microcosm of the nation’s history, the history of the Arlington property encompasses slavery, emancipation, segregation, and civil rights. At the cemetery, gravesites and memorials honor the dedication and sacrifice of African American service members who served their country and fought for racial justice.

    Whether you are planning to visit the cemetery or are exploring it from home, download guides to understand more about the history, traditions and operations of ANC. The guides include:

    • Appropriate Behavior at Arlington National Cemetery
    • A Short History of the Arlington Property
    • Differences in Grave Markers
    • Elements of Military Funerals
    • Horticulture and the Grounds at Arlington National Cemetery

    Famously described as a “splendid little war,” the Spanish-American War lasted for only four months in 1898. Despite its brevity, it had a tremendous historical impact. The United States acquired overseas territories, established itself as the dominant nation in the Western Hemisphere and began a new era as a major world power.

    ANC contains more Spanish-American War monuments and burial sites than any other location in the continental United States. Use the materials in this module to explore the legacy of this war and the experiences of individuals who served — as soldiers, sailors or military nurses.

    For more information about ANC’s education program and to access their materials, visit

    History & Facts

    Arlington National Cemetery history is a microcosm of the nation. It is the final resting place for war heroes, veterans and freed slaves as well as luminaries in science, engineering, medicine and government. Consider the following interesting facts about Arlington National Cemetery.

    The National Cemetery encompasses 639 acres overlooking the Potomac River across from Washington, D.C. The burial ground was established on May 13, 1864 on land confiscated from Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Annually, more than 4 million people visit the National Cemetery. The National Cemetery, Memorial Drive, the Women in Military Service for America Memorial and Arlington House, also known as the Custis-Lee Mansion, were added to the National Register of Historic Places as the Arlington National Cemetery Historic District in April 2014. The cemetery has approximately 8,500 trees from 300 different species. Three of the trees are the largest of their kind in Virginia.

    George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted grandson of President George Washington, originally owned Arlington Estate. Robert E. Lee’s wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis inherited the property. The Lee family abandoned the estate when Virginia seceded at the start of the Civil War. Union troops occupied the property on May 24, 1861. Arlington House became a Union Army headquarters and the estate was incorporated into the defensive works around the capital.

    As the number of Union war dead began to exceed the space available in local cemeteries, additional burial grounds were required. Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs selected Arlington for its serene atmosphere. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1882 that the federal government had illegally seized the land. Rather than force the federal government to exhume and move the graves, Custis Lee, Robert’s son, sold the property for $150,000, which is equivalent to more than $3.2 million in 2015. The government representative at the ceremony was President Abraham Lincoln’s son, Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln, who is buried in the cemetery.

    Up to 30 funerals take place each day. Flags at the cemetery are flown at half-staff from one-half hour before the first scheduled memorial funeral service until one-half hour after the last service of the day. Every Thursday before Memorial Day, a small flag is placed in front of each headstone. President Herbert Hoover was present at the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington in May of 1929. Each president of the United States sends a wreath to the cemetery on Memorial Day, Veterans Day and the birthdays of Presidents William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy, who are buried in Arlington.

    The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers is guarded 24-hours a day by soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Regiment, which is known as the Old Guard. Made from Yule marble from Colorado, the tomb contains the remains of service members from both World Wars and the conflict in Korea. The unknown remains from the Vietnam War were exhumed and later identified using DNA. The Vietnam crypt remains empty. Advancements in DNA testing may mean that all future remains will be positively identified so there likely will be no further interments in the tomb.

    In addition to The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, Arlington contains other monuments and memorials. These include the Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial which honors the crew of STS-51-L who died on January 28, 1986 shortly after liftoff. A similar memorial honors the crew of STS-107 who perished when the shuttle Columbia was destroyed during reentry on February 1, 2003. There are also monuments to Women in Military Service for America and a Cross of Sacrifice honoring Americans who fought with Canadian Forces during both World Wars and Korea. Other memorials honor those who died on Pan Am Flight 103 when it exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland and in the Pentagon attack on September 11, 2001.

    This was the first African American to receive the Medal of Honor

    Posted On January 28, 2019 18:39:45

    Of the 3,498 service members who have received the Medal of Honor throughout U.S. history, only 88 have been black.

    In recognition of African American History Month, the Pentagon is sharing the stories of the brave men who so gallantly risked and gave their lives for others, even in times when others weren’t willing to do the same in return.

    The first black recipient of the award was Army Sgt. William H. Carney, who earned the honor for protecting one of the United States’ greatest symbols during the Civil War — the American flag.

    Carney was born into slavery in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1840. His family was eventually granted freedom and moved to Massachusetts, where Carney was eager to learn and secretly got involved in academics, despite laws and restrictions that banned blacks from learning to read and write.

    Carney had wanted to pursue a career in the church, but when the Civil War broke out, he decided the best way he could serve God was by serving in the military to help free the oppressed.

    In March 1863, Carney joined the Union Army and was attached to Company C, 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment, the first official black unit recruited for the Union in the north. Forty other black men served with him, including two of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ sons.

    A lithograph of the storming of Fort Wagner. (Wikimedia Commons)

    Within a few months, Carney’s training would be put to the ultimate test during the unit’s first major combat mission in Charleston, South Carolina.

    On July 18, 1863, the soldiers of Carney’s regiment led the charge on Fort Wagner. During the battle, the unit’s color guard was shot. Carney, who was just a few feet away, saw the dying man stumble, and he scrambled to catch the falling flag.

    Despite suffering several serious gunshot wounds himself, Carney kept the symbol of the Union held high as he crawled up the hill to the walls of Fort Wagner, urging his fellow troops to follow him. He planted the flag in the sand at the base of the fort and held it upright until his near-lifeless body was rescued.

    Even then, though, he didn’t give it up. Many witnesses said Carney refused to give the flag to his rescuers, holding onto it tighter until, with assistance, he made it to the Union’s temporary barracks.

    Carney lost a lot of blood and nearly lost his life, but not once did he allow the flag to touch the ground. His heroics inspired other soldiers that day and were crucial to the North securing victory at Fort Wagner. Carney was promoted to the rank of sergeant for his actions.

    For his bravery, Carney was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on May 23, 1900.

    Carney’s legacy serves as a shining example of the patriotism that Americans felt at that time, despite the color of their skin.

    As for the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment in which Carney served? It was disestablished long ago, but reactivated in 2008. It now serves as a National Guard ceremonial unit that renders honorary funerals and state functions. It was even invited to march in President Barack Obama’s inaugural parade.


    Arlington National Cemetery History

    George Washington’s step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, willed his 1,100-acre property to his daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis. Mary Anna married Robert E. Lee. When General Robert E. Lee decided to fight on the side of the Confederacy in the Civil War, the Lee family vacated the premises.[i] As of June 18, 2020, General Robert E. Lee’s house still stands and is closed while undergoing restoration. The house was originally scheduled to reopen in the fall of 2019. The house is scheduled to reopen in the summer of 2020.[ii] The Lee The house is visible from Washington, DC.

    The Virginia militia occupied the estate on May 7, 1861. Union troops occupied the estate, and the rest of Arlington, without resistance later in May.[iii] In 1863 Congress passed a tax on all lands in Confederate states. Failure to pay meant the Federal Government could seize the property. Mary Ann Lee couldn’t travel to Arlington because of her health. She sent a surrogate to pay the tax but the tax collector refused because the payment had to be made in person. The Federal Government bought the estate and paid $26,800.[iv]

    Federal troops used the property as a camp and headquarters. In 1863 the federal government created Freedman’s Village on the estate. Freedman’s Village provided housing, education, training, and medical care to former slaves. This was a way to assist former slaves in transitioning to freedom. On May 13, 1864 the U.S. buried Private William Christman. This was the first soldier buried on the estate. On June 15, the War Department set aside about 200 acres of the property as a cemetery.[v] The U.S. Army buried Union officers close to Lee’s house. The idea was with Union officers buried nearby Lee wouldn’t want the house back.

    During the Civil War the U.S. Army buried thousands of service members and former slaves on the estate.[vi] General Lee made no attempt to get back the property after the Civil War. He didn’t want to do anything to hinder reconciliation between the North and South. George Washington Custis Lee sued to reclaim the property in April 1874. On December 4, 1882 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 the Federal Government illegally confiscated the property. Lee chose $150,000 in compensation in lieu of reclaiming the estate.[vii]

    Arlington National Cemetery has over 9,600 trees. Some of these trees are almost 250 years old and were around when America won its independence from Great Britain. Over 140 trees were planted to commemorate military units, battles, and individuals.[viii]

    There is the Memorial Amphitheater. This is where official ceremonies are held. It was dedicated on May 15, 1920. The three famous annual services take place on Easter, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day. The Easter sunrise service begins at 6 in the morning. The Memorial and Veterans Day services begin at 11 in the morning.

    Behind the Amphitheatre is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Inside the above ground crypt is the Unknown Soldier from World War I. The United States, as did some other countries, dedicated a tomb for an unknown service member. There are three in ground Unknown Soldier crypts. The crypts for the Unknown Soldier of World War II and Korea have the body of an unidentified service member from each of these wars. By the end of the Vietnam Conflict the technology had improved such that it was possible to positively identify the remains of almost anybody. On May 17, 1984 USMC Sergeant Major Allan Jay Kellogg Jr. selected an unknown soldier from the Vietnam War. The unknown soldier was interred in the crypt for the Vietnam War on Memorial Day, 1984. The Vietnam War unknown soldier’s body was exhumed on May 14, 1998. With DNA testing scientists identified the remains of 1 st Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie, USAF. 1 st Lieutenant Blassie died when enemy forces shot down his A-37B Dragonfly on May 11, 1972.[ix] As his family wished 1 st Lieutenant Blasse was reinterred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri. The Vietnam Unknown crypt is empty. “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975”, is inscribed on the Vietnam Unknown crypt.[x]

    Soldiers of the 3 rd U.S. Infantry Regiment guard the tomb. There is a changing of the guard ceremony every hour from October 1 – March 31 and every ½ hour from April 1 – September 30.[xi]

    Presidents William Howard Taft and John Fitzgerald Kennedy are the two presidents buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The President Kennedy gravesite has an eternal flame. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, President Kennedy’s brother, who was also assassinated, is also buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His grave has a marker and a white cross.

    Arlington National Cemetery has a Confederate Memorial. Confederate veteran, Moses Jacob Ezekiel, designed the memorial. He was the first Jewish graduate of Virginia Military Institute (VMI).[xii] VMI students fought in many Civil War battles. Confederate gravestones surround the Confederate Memorial. Confederate gravestones have pitched tops while other gravestones have rounded tops. There are also graves of military people from other countries.

    One could get a good image of U.S. History from the Civil War onwards from the Arlington Cemetery Memorials. These are some of the Memorials:

    • USS Maine Memorial – It commemorates the more than 260 sailors who died when the USS Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898. Although there was no evidence Spain had anything to do with the sinking the battle cry, “Remember the Maine” went out. The United States declared war on Spain on April 25.
    • Spanish-American War memorial – Dedicated to those who died during the Spanish-American War.
    • Spanish-American War Nurses Memorial – Dedicated to the U.S. nurses who served in the Spanish-American War. This was the first time in a U.S. war that nurses served in a dedicated, quasi-military, unit.[xiii]
    • Canadian Cross of Sacrifice – Is a memorial to the Americans who volunteered for the Canadian Expeditionary Force and lost their lives in World War I.[xiv]
    • Argonne Cross – Commemorates the World War I Meuse-Argonne Offensive that began on September 26, 1918 and lasted until the Armistice went into effect at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918.[xv]
    • Battle of the Bulge Memorial – This commemorates the battle in the Ardennes Forest the U.S. dubbed the “Battle of the Bulge”. It was the last major German offensive. The battle took place in the winter of 1944/45. U.S. and UK forced turned the German offensive into a major German debacle.
    • USS Thresher National Commemorative Monument – The nuclear-powered submarine USS THRESHER (SSN-593) sank with 129 personnel on board, including 17 civilian technicians, on April 10, 1963.[xvi]
    • Iran Rescue Mission Memorial – On April 24 1980 the U.S. attempted to rescue the 53 Americans held hostage by Iran. Mishaps caused President Jimmy Carter to abort the mission. When the commandos were departing from a site called “Desert One” a USMC helicopter collided with a parked USAF C-130. The mishap killed 5 airmen and 3 marines.[xvii]
    • Beirut Barracks Memorial – On October 23, 1983 suicide truck bombers struck the USMC, and French military barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. The attacks killed 241 American service members, 58 French service members, and 6 civilians. For the USMC it was the deadliest day since the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.[xviii]
    • Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial – On January 28, 1986 the space shuttle CHALLENGER exploded 73 seconds after lift-off. The 7 astronauts on board died in the crash.[xix]
    • Pan Am Flight 103 Memorial – On December 21, 1988 a terrorist bomb on Pan American flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland. The bomb killed all 259 people on board the Boeing 747 and 11 people on the ground.[xx] On January 31, 2001 Abdel Baset al-Megrahi was convicted on 270 counts of murder and sentenced to life. MP Kenny MacAskill released Abdel Baset al-Megrahi on August 20, 2009. Al-Meghrahi returned to a hero’s welcome in his native Lybia.
    • Pentagon Group Burial Marker – On September 11, 2001 terrorists hijacked 4 jetliners. The terrorists crashed two of the jetliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. One jetliner crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. One jetliner, American Airlines Flight 77, crashed into the Pentagon. Total losses from the Flight 77 crash were 184.[xxi]
    • Space Shuttle Columbia Memorial – On February 1, 2003 the space shuttle COLUMBIA burned up on re-entry killing all 7 astronauts on board.[xxii]

    [i] Official Online Brochure,, last accessed 6/19/2020.

    [ii] National Park Service, The Robert E. Lee Memorial,, last accessed 6/19/2020.

    [iii] Real Clear History, How Robert E. Lee’s Home Became Arlington National Cemetery, by Richard Brownell, May 9, 2018,, last accessed, 6/19/2020.

    [iv] Real Clear History, How Robert E. Lee’s Home Became Arlington National Cemetery, by Richard Brownell, May 9, 2018,, last accessed, 6/19/2020.

    [v] Official Online Brochure,, last accessed 6/19/2020.

    [vi] Official Online Brochure,, last accessed 6/19/2020.

    [vii] Real Clear History, How Robert E. Lee’s Home Became Arlington National Cemetery, by Richard Brownell, May 9, 2018,, last accessed, 6/19/2020.

    [viii] Memorial Arboretum and Horticulture, , last accessed 6/19/2020.

    [ix] Air Force, Together We Served,, last accessed 6/20/2020.

    [x] Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,, last accessed 6/20/2020.

    [xi] Changing of the Guard,, last accessed 6/20/2020.

    [xii] Confederate Memorial,, last accessed 6/20/2020.

    [xiii] Spanish-American War Nurses Memorial,, last accessed 6/20/2020.

    [xiv] Canadian Cross of Sacrifice,, last accessed 6/20/2020.

    [xv] Argonne Cross,, last accessed 6/20/2020.

    [xvi] USS TRESHER,, last accessed 6/20/2020.

    [xvii] Iran Rescue Mission,, last accessed 6/20/2020.

    [xviii] Beirut Barracks Memorial,, last accessed 6/21/2020.

    [xix] Space Shuttle Challenger,, last accessed 6/21/2020.

    [xx] Pan Am Flight 103 Memorial,, last accessed 6/21/2020.

    [xxi] Pentagon Group Burial Marker,, last accessed 6/21/2020.

    [xxii] Space Shuttle Columbia Memorial,, last accessed 6/21/2020.

    National Register

    The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.

    Property Name Arlington National Cemetery Historic District
    Reference Number 14000146
    State Virginia
    County Arlington
    Town Arlington
    Street Address One Memorial Avenue
    Multiple Property Submission Name N/A
    Status Listed 4/11/2014
    Areas of Significance Military, Landscape Architecture, Politics/Government, Architecture
    Link to full file
    As the final resting place of military veterans, from the well known to the unknown and materialized in the rows of white headstones, ANC is nationally significant as the country's premier national cemetery and as a testament to the measures taken to honor and respect those who have played a role in our country's history. With a period of significance from 1864 to the present, ANC retains its integrity and meets National Register Criteria A, B, and C, and Criteria Considerations D, F, and Gat a national level. The Criteria A and B periods of significance of ANC begin in 1864 and continue to the present day. The year 1864 marks the year the U.S. Army began to utilize the estate as a cemetery. Recent additions to the cemetery in terms of land development as well as monuments and memorials are significant despite their age of less than 50 years. The Department of Defense continues to use the cemetery for burials for war veterans, and it continues to commemorate significant national events by the construction of memorials. The period of significance therefore extends to the present day as ANC continues to develop as a national cemetery and as a symbol for those who have fought for the freedoms of United States citizens. The Criterion C period of significance begins in 1864 and ends in 1966 with the massive expansion east of present-day Eisenhower Drive and is directly attributed to the picturesque planning and design of the cemetery under the direction of Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs as well as the Beaux Arts influences of the 1920s and 1930s at the hands of the Commission of Fine Arts. The design of the area to the east of Eisenhower Drive after 1966 is based upon maximizing the number of burials rather than extending the rural/picturesque aspects of Meigs' original design and therefore the period of significance ends in 1966 for the rural/picturesque design under Criterion C. The nomination for Arlington House (a contributing component to the ANC Historic District) has two associated archeological sites that are contributing under Criterion D.

    Properties are listed in the National Register of Historic Places under four criteria: A, B, C, and D. For information on what these criterion are and how they are applied, please see our Bulletin on How to Apply the National Register Criteria

    Arlington National Cemetery: 'The history of our nation'

    Arlington National Cemetery – established during the Civil War on property owned by Confederate General Robert E. Lee – holds the remains of American soldiers from every US war.

    Back in 1868, “Decoration Day” events in Washington, D.C. to honor the lost soldiers of a country recovering mightily from the Civil War were very well attended.

    The flow of Americans coming to pay their respects at the national cemetery was “staggering,” says Stephen Carney, Arlington National Cemetery historian. By 1870, over 25,000 visitors streamed into town, more than the population of the nation’s capital itself – a flow that created huge traffic jams.

    Mourners came to pay tribute to the dead of the North and the South as the burial grounds were fast becoming a symbol of national reconciliation.

    But the cemetery – which marks its 150th anniversary this month – was not conceived in that same fence-mending spirit.

    Brig. Gen. Montgomery Meigs, who was serving as the quartermaster general for the Union Forces, attended West Point with Gen. Robert E. Lee, and had worked closely with him throughout their military careers.

    As Kamala Harris’ portfolio grows, so does the scrutiny

    When Lee resigned his commission in the Union Army, to take charge of the Confederates, Meigs was “incensed,” Dr. Carney says.

    Like Lee, Gen. Meigs was a Virginian, but he believed the oath to the United States outweighed any allegiances to his state. “He does not have a very good view of southern-born Army officers who resign their commission and go to serve in the Confederate Army,” Carney adds. “He felt betrayed.”

    And that sense of betrayal seems to have impelled Meigs to take punitive action. The US government had seized the Lee mansion, on a high, strategic point overlooking the city. From that ridge, which was then known as Arlington Heights, troops with rifled artillery could have targeted any federal building in the District of Columbia, including the White House, Carney notes.

    The government seized it through a war tax placed on property owners in areas in rebellion against the United States. The tax placed on Lee Manor was $92, which would have been several thousand dollars today – not out of range for a wealthy family like the Lees.

    And so Mary Custis Lee “made a good-faith effort” to pay that tax, sending an emissary to deliver the money. But he was turned away, since one of the provisions of that property tax was that it had to be delivered in person.

    The government was well aware that it would have been “quite dangerous” for many in areas of rebellion to make the trip to Washington to pay the tax, particularly the wife of the commander of Confederate forces. And so the government took possession of the land.

    By spring of 1864, as the war wounded were flowing back into Washington, the cemeteries in nearby Alexandria, Va., and Georgetown were filling up.

    As quartermaster, Meigs was responsible for burying the military’s dead. He was also privy to the knowledge that General Ulysses S. Grant was launching his overland campaign, west of Fredericksburg, Va., all the way down to Richmond.

    “Meigs was well aware that if Grant’s vision of how he’s going to win is enacted, they will be sending supplies down, and bringing the dead and wounded back out,” Carney says. And Meigs was well aware, too, that given the war plan, the dead and wounded were likely to be many, and “how serious the space problem is for suitable burial ground.”

    And so he looked to Lee manor and designated 200 acres or so around the house as a cemetery. In May, 1864, the first soldier was buried in what was dubbed at the time “the field of the dead,” which was a fair distance away from the Lee house.

    The burial happened while Meigs was away on business. When he returned, Meigs pointed out that his original order specified that he wanted soldiers buried as close to the house as was practical.

    He directed that the first officer to be laid to rest in the new cemetery should be buried right next to what had been Mary Lee Custis’ rose garden, beside the house.

    In doing this, Meigs had two primary motivations, Carney says: “To punish Lee for the sense of betrayal that he feels, and again to really make sure for the federal government that this place is always going to be a national military cemetery, and not a private residence for anyone in the Custis-Lee family.”

    Lee never returned to the home, and by the end of the Civil War, there were 16,000 soldiers laid to rest in the new burial grounds. “Regardless of what the motivations were for turning Arlington into a cemetery, by 1900 it becomes a powerful symbol of reconciliation,” Carney says.

    Today, there are 400,000, along with the remains of 2,111 unknown soldiers of the North and South, plus 403 Medal of Honor recipients, with headstones etched in gold rather than the standard black.

    The cemetery draws some 3.5 million visitors a year, and conducts 30 funerals a day, most recently for those who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of those 30 funerals, about eight of them each day are full honor funerals that include the casket or urn being brought to its final resting place on horse-drawn caissons.

    Though caissons were used to carry artillery ammunition during the Civil War, they quickly became associated with the funeral process, since when the two sides called a cease-fire to remove their dead and wounded, they would often use caissons to transport them.

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    In the years since, the cemetery has seen veterans from every one of America’s conflicts interred there, from Revolutionary War fighters who were disinterred from a cemetery over in Georgetown to be buried there in 1905, along with 14 unknown soldiers and sailors killed during the war of 1812 and every US war since.

    “Because of that,” Carney says, “I think the history of Arlington is the history of our nation.”

    From After the War to Today

    Arlington National Cemetery grew a few times since the end of the war. It was somewhat of a pauper’s cemetery early on, serving as a burial site for union soldiers whose bodies couldn’t be brought home. But, as Union officers requested burials there, it became more renowned and tripled in size. Arlington House also still stands, its furniture and many of its paintings still on display with facts about Lee’s family, the stately building’s odd history and the blight on America that was slavery.

    Today, more than 400,000 dead from America’s wars, military veterans and other national heroes now rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Some men who died in America’s earlier wars were even exhumed and reburied there. However, the qualifications for interment in the cemetery are quite strict. To be eligible for burial there, servicemen or their families must meet one of the following criteria:

    • Died on active duty
    • Retired with pension
    • Received the Purple Heart, Silver Star or higher honors for service
    • Any honorably discharged POW who died after 1993

    Thousands of graves like these now dot the hillsides at Arlington, with even more interred in the walls of columbaria in the cemetery. However, there are some graves that stand out more than others.

    Just downhill from Arlington House is John F. Kennedy’s grave. Since his assassination in 1961, Kennedy’s grave has borne an eternal flame. The only other president interred at Arlington National Cemetery is William Howard Taft.

    One of the cemetery’s most famous features is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This tomb houses the remains of soldiers from both world wars and the Korean War, plus a now-empty crypt from the Vietnam War. Servicemen have guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier perpetually since 1937, no matter the conditions. The changing of the guard is a popular attraction for visitors, occurring every 30 minutes during the summer months.

    Other notable burials at Arlington National Cemetery include the likes of Robert F. Kennedy, Jackie O., Thurgood Marshall, Pierre Charles L’Enfant, Maureen O’Hara and the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

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    Chances are as you wander around, you'll see some visitors kneeling by a grave or leaving a note or flower to remember a loved one. You may see a graveside service underway in the distance, hear a bugle playing "Taps" or be startled by rifle shots, customary for military funerals. Or you may see six horses slowly and solemnly pulling a caisson bearing a flag-draped coffin for a full-honors funeral.

    Signs around the cemetery bear the words "Silence and Respect," to give mourners space and privacy.

    Fall leaves lay among the gravestones at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., on Oct. 28, 2010. The cemetery gets between 3 million and 4 million visitors a year.

    Photo Credit: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

    Arlington National Cemetery is open daily 8 a.m.-5 p.m., October-May (and until 7 p.m., April-September). Admission is free.

    Stop in the welcome center for a free map and advice on finding sites of particular interest. The cemetery is a square mile, so allow several hours for your visit. Be prepared for hills and lots of walking.

    Hop-on, hop-off trolleys with narrated tours offer an overview of the grounds with stops at some of the most-visited sites. Tickets are $12 (discounts for children, veterans, military personnel and seniors).

    The Washington, D.C., Metrorail blue line has a stop at Arlington National Cemetery. If you're driving, an onsite parking garage is accessible from Memorial Avenue.

    The historic Arlington House mansion is seen July 17, 2014, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. The historic house and plantation overlooking the nation's capital was home to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

    Photo Credit: Cliff Owen/AP


    Arlington House, also known as the Robert E. Lee Memorial, is on a hilltop overlooking the Kennedy gravesite. Standing in front of the house, you can see downtown Washington with the Washington Monument's white obelisk in the distance.

    The Lee house, run by the National Park Service, has fascinating connections to George Washington and the Civil War. The land where the cemetery now sits was originally a 19th-century slave plantation owned by George Washington's adopted grandson, George Washington Parke Custis. Custis' daughter married Robert E. Lee, the leader of the Confederate Army. During the Civil War, Union troops occupied the estate and began burying soldiers there. Lee's family never returned, and in 1882 the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the government to compensate them. Two cabins behind Arlington House tell the story of African-Americans — both enslaved and free — who lived and worked there.

    The Kennedy gravesite has markers for the slain president, his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and other family members. JFK's famous quote, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," is engraved nearby.

    A Tomb guard walks at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Oct. 22, 2014, in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va. The tomb is one of the cemetery's most-visited sites.

    Photo Credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

    Arlington National Cemetery is dotted with memorials. They include monuments and markers honoring veterans of various battles and wars, victims of disasters like the sinking of the USS Maine and the downing of Pan Am Flight 103, and others who served or sacrificed, from Gold Star mothers to the Coast Guard.

    The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded by a marching uniformed sentinel 24 hours a day, with a changing of the guard on the hour.

    Many famous individuals are buried here, from Hollywood actors to U.S. senators. But one of the most asked-about sites in the last few months has been the grave of Capt. Humayun Khan, whose father spoke at the Democratic National Convention in August. Khan was killed during the Iraq War, and the story of his immigrant Muslim family and their loss became an issue in the presidential campaign. Welcome center staff are accustomed to giving directions to his gravesite, No. 7986 in section 60, where visitors often leave flowers and notes.

    Most Arlington graves are marked with crosses, but other symbols, like the six-pointed Jewish star and a wheel representing the Buddhist faith, can be seen. Khan's headstone bears a Muslim crescent and star.

    JFK buried at Arlington National Cemetery

    Three days after his assassination in Dallas, Texas, John F. Kennedy is laid to rest with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

    Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was shot to death while riding in an open-car motorcade with his wife and Texas Governor John Connally through the streets of downtown Dallas. Ex-Marine and communist sympathizer Lee Harvey Oswald was the alleged assassin. Kennedy was rushed to Dallas’ Parkland Hospital, where he was pronounced dead 30 minutes later. He was 46.

    Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who was three cars behind President Kennedy in the motorcade, was sworn in as the 36th president of the United States less than two hours later. He took the presidential oath of office aboard Air Force One as it sat on the runway at Dallas Love Field airport. The swearing in was witnessed by some 30 people, including Jacqueline Kennedy, who was still wearing clothes stained with her husband’s blood. Seven minutes later, the presidential jet took off for Washington.

    The next day, November 23, President Johnson issued his first proclamation, declaring November 25 to be a day of national mourning for the slain president. On that day, hundreds of thousands of people lined the streets of Washington to watch a horse-drawn caisson bear Kennedy’s body from the Capitol Rotunda to St. Matthew’s Catholic Cathedral for a requiem Mass. The solemn procession then continued on to Arlington National Cemetery, where leaders of 99 nations gathered for the state funeral. Kennedy was buried with full military honors on a slope below Arlington House, where an eternal flame was lit by his widow to forever mark the grave.

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