When deaths from the Civil War exceeded the burial capacity of the Washington, D.C. area, the quartermaster general for the Union army was tasked with locating a site for a singular national cemetery large enough to allow for all the anticipated burials for the remainder of the war. The large estate across the Potomac River, which was owned by Robert E. Lee, served the purpose. Confiscating the property was an added measure of revenge, since Lee was considered a traitor to his country.
By the end of the Civil War there were more than 17,000 graves on the property. Today, more than 400,000 burials have taken place on this bucolic piece of land, and the cemetery sees nearly four million visitors a year.
Most Americans have heard of Arlington National Cemetery, yet many of those interred rest in obscurity. This book seeks to honor their memories by telling the stories of 250 people buried here. Many were battlefield heroes, but some survived war to achieve major accomplishments. There are also stories of the original inhabitants of the cemetery, slaves and freedmen who worked on the Lee estate. There are even some humorous stories such as that of the 110-year-old veteran who was asked the secret of his long life. His response was “When you start to die, don’t.” In addition, the book covers the obvious sites that everyone wants to see such as the Tomb of the Unknowns and President Kennedy’s gravesite.
Navigating the cemetery can be frustrating at times. Searching for a particular section of the cemetery is impractical without a map and locating a specific grave within a section can lead to expenditure of significant time and energy. To aid visitors, a series of maps presents logical starting points. There is a GPS coordinate for each gravesite, which combines with the cemetery’s smart phone application to make location simple. Each of the sites is accompanied by a color photograph.