Civil War

Activists Say Road Construction is Encroaching on Slave Cemetery in Virginia


Outside of Washington, D.C., construction on a new interchange is encroaching on a marked slave cemetery. Residents in Loudoun County, Virginia, are worried about the new construction  on the interchange between Belmont Ridge Road and Route 7. These residents have been restoring and protecting the cemetery as an integral part of Loudoun County's history. 

Pastor Michelle Thomas of the Loudoun Freedom Center is one of the cemetery's biggest advocates. The mission of the Center is to "eliminate injustice and engender hope, understanding, and reconciliation . . . as it relates to the lives & contributions of the enslaved . . . who may be buried throughout Loudoun County." Thomas and residents in the area discovered that the construction moved the cemetery's fence line, and some digging had occured. 

In the course of construction, trees that protect marked and unmarked graves were removed. These trees protect the cemetery from erosion and vandalism. Virginia Code §18.2-127 makes purposeful destruction of cemeteries and burial grounds a criminal act. It is even a felony to destroy or damage marked gravestones. These statutes do give the residents of Loudoun County and the Center a legal remedy for any damages to the cemetery, but would essentially require a neighborhood watch after the removal of the trees. 

Although a spokesman for the county assured residents that the cemetery will remain undisturbed, residents are still worried. The County promises to monitor the area for those trying to disturb the remains, but the nearby residents are remaining vigilent. These guardians of the slave cemetery wish to ensure that the dignity and respect they've worked so hard to restore remains intact.

Amelia Lowe

Cemetery Tourist: The Complicated History of The Lee/Custis Estate and Arlington National Cemetery

I visited Arlington National Cemetery this weekend.  It was a beautiful day but I cannot help but think about the complicated history of the place when I visit there.  The following text is excerpted from How Arlington National Cemetery Came to Be, by Robert M. Poole in Smithsonian Magazine with photographs from my recent visit.  The first photograph is taken from the front yard of the Arlington House looking across the Potomac to the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Capitol Building.  It was strategic high ground that the Union Army could not allow to remain in the hands of the general of Army of Northern Virginia—Robert E. Lee and his wife Mary Custis Lee, the step-great-granddaughter/adopted granddaughter of George Washington.
DSC03076"One afternoon in May 1861, a young Union Army officer went rushing into the mansion that commanded the hills across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. 'You must pack up all you value immediately and send it off in the morning,' Lt. Orton Williams told Mary Custis Lee, wife of Robert E. Lee, who was away mobilizing Virginia's military forces as the country hurtled toward the bloodiest war in its history.
Mary Lee dreaded the thought of abandoning Arlington, the 1,100-acre estate she had inherited from her father, George Washington Parke Custis, upon his death in 1857. Custis, the grandson of Martha Washington, had been adopted by George Washington when Custis' father died in 1781. Beginning in 1802, as the new nation's capital took form across the river, Custis started building Arlington, his showplace mansion. Probably modeled after the Temple of Hephaestus in Athens, the columned house floated among the Virginia hills as if it had been there forever, peering down upon the half-finished capital at its feet. When Custis died, Arlington passed to Mary Lee, his only surviving child, who had grown up, married and raised seven children and buried her parents there. In correspondence, her husband referred to the place as "our dear home," the spot "where my attachments are more strongly placed than at any other place in the world." If possible, his wife felt an even stronger attachment to the property. ...

Once the war began, Arlington was easily won. But then it became the prize in a legal and bureaucratic battle that would continue long after the guns fell silent at Appomattox in 1865. The federal government was still wrestling the Lee family for control of the property in 1882, by which time it had been transformed into Arlington National Cemetery, the nation's most hallowed ground. ...

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Tallahassee National Cemetery Continues the Strong Legacy of Veterans' Cemeteries

In the opening months of the Civil War, soldiers were buried near the place they died.  But as wartime casualties began to mount and it became apparent that the war would last longer than initially expected, Congress saw the need to create a new system for respectfully processing the startling numbers of casualties.  In July 1862, Congress authorized President Lincoln to purchase land to be developed into a national cemetery for soldiers who give their lives in the service of their country.  This was the first piece of national legislation suggesting a national cemetery.

Fourteen national cemeteries were established in 1862.  One of those fourteen, Antietam National Cemetery, saw 4,476 Union soldiers laid to rest.  By the end of the decade, nearly 300,000 Union soldiers had been buried in seventy-three national cemeteries created under that initial grant of authority.

Arlington National Cemetery is easily the most famous of these cemeteries.  The land encompassing what is now Arlington National Cemetery was once inhabited by General Robert E. Lee and his wife, Mary Anne Randolph Custis, granddaughter of George and Martha Washington.  After Virginia joined the Confederacy and ceded from the Union in May 1861, the Union Army occupied the property.  Three hard years later, Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs recommended the property be used for the burial of war dead.  On May 13, 1864, Private William L. Christman became the first person laid to rest at Arlington.  A month later, Secretary of War Edward M. Stanton ordered General Lee's home, Arlington Mansion, and up to 200 acres of the property be used as a cemetery.

Arlington National Cemetery and the Soldier's and Airmen's Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. remain the only two cemeteries maintained by the Army.  Fourteen national cemeteries are administered by the National Park Service, including Antietam National Cemetery, Fredricksburg National Cemetery, Vicksburg National Cemetery, and Gettysburg National Cemetery.

In 1973, administration of eighty-two national cemeteries was transferred from the U.S. Army to the Department of Veterans Affairs.  In 2015, the Department of Veterans Affairs opened Tallahassee National Cemetery.  Burial in the new cemetery is open to all members of the armed forces and veterans who meet certain requirements, namely discharge under conditions other than dishonorable.  The cemetery joins 132 other national cemeteries and thirty-three soldiers' lots and monument sites located in forty states and Puerto Rico.  More than four million Americans, including veterans of every conflict in American history, are buried in cemeteries administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Blaydes Moore

Our Baby Boy — Remembering the Dead of Antietam

While driving from Indianapolis to Baltimore last week, I saw a sign for the Antietam National Battlefield, a national park. I'd never visited Antietam, but was struck by the description of the battle in the excellent documentary Death and the Civil War. A "quick" detour turned into a 3 hour visit as the afternoon sun faded. I'm so glad I took the time.


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