Arlington House is home to the nation’s largest memorial to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It is a dedication to General Lee for a variety of reasons, including the promotion of peace and unity for the nation after the Civil War. In a broader sense, the memorial exists as a focal point of United States history for study and scrutiny of arguably the most difficult period of our nation’s history. Themes of military service, sacrifice, citizenship, duty, loyalty, and of course the prominent yet shameful role of slavery in our nation are all addressed here.
Arlington House and The Robert E. Lee Memorial, was formerly the Custis-Lee Mansion. It is a Greek revival styled mansion in Arlington, Virginia. The house was, during the Civil War years, the home of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee. It has sweeping views of the Potomac River and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. During the Civil War, the vast grounds of the mansion were the site of the Arlington National Cemetery. This was a ‘tactical gesture’ of sorts, to ensure that General Lee, and other prominent confederates would never be able to return to the home after the conflict that ravaged much of the area.
The United States designated Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial as a National Memorial on October 15, 1966. Although the United States Army has control over Arlington National Cemetery, the National Park Service administers the house and memorial separately.
George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted son of our nations first president, built Custis-Lee Mansion in 1802 following the deaths of Martha and George Washington. Custis named the area ‘Arlington’ after the Custis family homestead in Eastern Virginia. The house was the first example of Greek Revival Architecture in the United States and was originally intended to house and preserve artifacts of George Washington. While construction began in 1803, it wasn’t fully completed until 1818.
The home was passed down through various generations until General Lee, as executor of George Washington Custis Lee’s will began to make improvements to the property. After Lee left the Union for the Confederacy, the property became somewhat of a hot button issue for either side. The house’s prominent location, on high ground overlooking the capital meant not only was it a sought after strategic prize for either side in the Civil War, but a common source of national pride.
After many legal battles, in 1955 Custis-Lee Mansion was designated as a memorial to General Lee and the mansion was given a permanent memorial plaque and authentically refurnished to the Civil War period. It was finally named ‘Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial’ by Congress in 1972.
Today, it is stoic reminder of our nation’s past and an authentic recreation of life in the Civil War period. Visitors may schedule tours or simply observe the interior and exterior of the home and surrounding property at their own pace. Arlington House is open daily from 9:30 am – 4:30 pm (closed on Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Day and New Years Day). There is no entrance fee.
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