The Custis-Lee Mansion sits high atop a hill over looking the Nation’s Capital, the Potomac River, and thousands of graves of American Heroes.
The Greek Revival mansion was started around 1800, and completed in 1804 by George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted son of the nation’s first President.
The magnificent 1,100 acre estate was inherited by Custis from his biological father, Martha Washington’s son by her first marriage.
Old Virginia families being what they are, his daughter married well. She married Robert E. Lee, a young United States Army officer. They were married in the parlor of the mansion on June 30, 1831.
When the Lees weren’t on assignment, in battle, or on base, the mansion was their home.
And then, the defining moment in our nation’s history UP to that point arrived. Civil War.
Lee, every faithful to his home state, his beliefs, and his family left the US army and took command of the Virginia’s Provisional forces and eventually the Confederate forces.
As the family home was literally across the river from DC, and an invasion of Virginia was imminent, Lee feared for his family’s safety. After hiding valuables, sending important art works and papers to Ravensworth, her sister’s home, Mrs. Lee and the family evacuated.
They could never go home again.
The Union Army invaded Virginia, took possession of the mansion, and used it as HQ for the command.
When battles commenced, Union Soldiers were buried on the hill that slopes to the Potomac.
By 1864, Cemeteries in the Washington area were full of Union dead. Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs selected Arlington as the site for a new cemetery. Meigs, a Georgian, had served under Lee, and considered his defection to the South a treasonous act. In spite he had 26 Union soldiers buried in Mrs. Lee’s rose garden.
The property was confiscated because Mrs. Lee, by then an invalid, had not paid her property taxes in person. Her agent arrived with the $92.04 required, but was turned away.
After the Surrender, Lee and his wife decided not to contest the confiscation of the property, feeling it would be further divisive.
When Lee died in 1870 in Lexington, VA, his eldest son, George Washington Custis Lee, a former Major General in the Confederate Army, filed suit against the United States to regain the estate.
It arrived in the halls of the Supreme Court of the United States, and in a 5-4 ruling, Lee was granted his property as the seizure was considered illegal.
In 1883, Lee sold the property back to the United States for $150,000, equivalent to $3.5 million today. Robert Todd Lincoln, Secretary of War, signed the documents transferring the house and 1,100 acres back to the Government.
It was to become the Nation’s Cemetery.
The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded 24 hours a day year round.
The Cemetery is symbolic of the sacrifice of the men and women who have died to secure the freedoms we enjoy today.
The sloping hill contains the remains of Privates and Presidents. The first soldier to be buried there was Private William Henry Christman of Pennsylvania. President John F. Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, Generals Patton and Pershing, and Father of the Nuclear Navy, Admiral Hyman Rickover all rest there.
It’s an impressive place, one that brings the reality of war, sacrifice and dedication to the mind.
It’s a don’t miss on the Washington Tour.
And, in reality, it’s not Scary and Spooky, it is sacred.