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Arlington Cemetery Celebrates its Sesquicentennial

Civil War section of Arlington Cemetery
Civil War section of Arlington Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery is 150 years old this month. Its first burials were on May 13, 1864.

The first soldiers interred included Pvt. William Henry Christman, of the 67th Pennsylvania Infantry, who died on May 11 from the measles; Pvt. William H. McKinney of the 17th Pennsylvania Cavalry; and Pvt. William Reeves of the 76th New York Infantry. The first battle casualty to be interred was Pvt. William Blatt of the 49th Pennsylvania Infantry. All were Union soldiers.

The property of the cemetery, ironically was owned originally by George Washington Parke Custis, who in turn passed the estate to his daughter. Mary Anne. Mary Anne was the wife of General Robert E. Lee.

The federal government “acquired” the property for use as a National Cemetery at a tax sale when Mrs. Lee failed to pay the property tax of $92.07 when it was due. The land, 624 acres, was certainly a deal, as they paid just $26,800.

Custis Lee sued the federal government in 1882, declaring in the court papers that the government had confiscated the land. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lee’s favor in a 5-4 decision, returning the estate to him. Lee in turn sold it back to the government for $150.000 at an event witnessed by then Secretary of War Robert Todd Lincoln.

The cemetery today has over 400,000 graves. They include graves of both Union and Confederate Civil War veterans.

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