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Arlington House - The Robert E. Lee Memorial

Overlooking Washington, D.C. and the Potomac River, the Arlington House is preserved as a memorial to Robert E. Lee, who spent 30 years of his life there. The house was originally built by George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Washington by her first marriage to Daniel Park Custis. Built upon an 1,100-acre tract of land which Custis had inherited, the mansion was intended as a living memorial to George Washington. Work began on the Greek revival structure in 1802 and took 16 years to complete.

George Washington Parke Custis had one surviving daughter, Mary Anna. In 1831, she married her childhood sweetheart and distant cousin, Robert E. Lee. For 30 years until the American Civil War, Arlington House, and all the land that is today Arlington National Cemetery, would be the Lees' home.

The Arlington House, designed by English architect
George Hadfield
courtesy of the National Park Service

Biographical Highlights

Robert E. Lee was born on January 19, 1807, at Stratford Hall, in Westmoreland County, Virginia. His father, "Light Horse Harry" Lee, was a Cavalry officer during the Revolutionary War and a three-term Virginia Governor. At age 13, Robert attended the Alexandria Academy, and later transferred to the West Point Military Academy in New York.

In June of 1831, while serving as Second Lieutenant of Engineers at Fort Monroe, Virginia, Lee married Mary Anna. In 1846 he served in the Mexican-American War and in 1852 was appointed superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, his alma mater. After his father-in-law died in 1857, he returned to live at Arlington House.

In 1861, on the eve of the Civil War, Lee was offered the position of General of the United States Army. His personal connections with the South caused him to sever his military affiliations with the United States and join the Confederate States. After serving in western Virginia and South Carolina during the first year of the war, Lee was called to Richmond in March of 1862 and became Jefferson Davis' top military adviser. In June of that year, Lee assumed command of the Army of Northern Virginia; in September, he launched his first invasion of the north which culminated with the Battle of Antietam; and in  December, he repulsed Union advances at Fredericksburg.

photograph courtesy of the Arlington National Cemetery
In May of 1863, Lee's victory at Chancellorsville, regarded by many as his greatest generalship of the Civil War, paved the way for the Battle of Gettysburg, which was fought two months later. In February of 1865, Lee was named Commander in Chief of all Confederate forces, but this came to an end two months later with the surrender at Appomattox.

Following the Civil War, Lee accepted the presidency of Washington College in Lexington, Virginia, and lived there until his death on October 12, 1870. After his death, his name was joined with that of his lifelong hero, and Washington College became Washington and Lee University.

Visiting the National Memorial

The Arlington House provides an intimate look at life before and after the Civil War, and has has been restored with many furnishings from the period, including many originally owned by the Lees. The Memorial is only a 10-minute walk from the Arlington National Cemetery. Visitors can tour the house with a self-guiding brochure or arrange for a one-hour guided group tour by calling in advance. The house is also a stop on Tourmobile's Arlington Cemetery tour. The Memorial is open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., from April through September and 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., from October through March. Admission is free. For further information, call 703-557-0613.

Other useful resources:

Civil War National Parks - includes links to all the national parks that commemorate the Civil War.

Gettysburg Discussion Group - includes links to Lee's letters, orders, and other historical papers.

Virginia State Parks Division - Includes descriptive information on state parks, calendar of events, outdoor adventures, hunting, fishing, camping, and volunteer opportunities.


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