Sunday, November 11, 2012

Checking Out Robert E. Lee's View of Washington, D.C.

Visiting Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial in Arlington, VA

Earlier this year, I picked up a copy of "Robert E. Lee, a Life" by humorist, Roy Blount, Jr. While it looks like a great book, so far I've only had time for a quick scan. Reading it is at the top of my "to-do" list, especially now.

Yesterday, my family and I visited Arlington Cemetery and I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial.

Gardens at Arlington House which were
originally planned by Mary Anna Randolph Custis

Arlington House was actually owned by Lee's wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, but it was a place of great importance to Lee. Six of their seven children were born in the house and, although he traveled a great deal, Lee seemed to think of Arlington House as his home.

The view from the front Arlington House
After the death of his father-in-law, Lee because the overseer of the estate. According to the National Park Service's website:
"Between 1857-1861, he attempted to reorganize the slaves into a more efficient labor force, cleaned up the grounds, hired a new overseer and supervised the planting of crops. He also oversaw extensive rebuilding around the plantation. He virtually rebuilt the overseer's house at the farm and the stable west of the mansion. He also fixed the roof of the mansion and took out a fire insurance policy on the mansion and the barn."
After Lincoln offered Lee the position of Commander of the Union Army, Lee is said to have made his decision to resign in his bedroom on the second floor of Arlington House. He wrote his letter resigning from the Union Army on the night of April 20, 1861. Two days later, he left for Richmond to join the Confederate Army, and would never live at Alexander House again.

Because of the war, Lee worked hard to convince his wife to leave her home. She finally agreed and left with her daughters and everything they could carry on May 15, 1861 and spent most of the war in Richmond.

The Union Army occupied Arlington House soon after she left and it became the headquarters of the Union's Army of Northeastern Virginia.

The article about Arlington House on Wikipedia states that, during the Civil War, the site was chosen for Arlington National Cemetery to make certain Lee and his family would never be able to return to their home.

Mary Lee did visit Arlington a few months before her death in 1873. Her memories of that day can be found on the National Park Service website:
“I rode out to my dear old home but so changed it seemed but a dream of the past—I could not have realised (sic) it was Arlington but for the few old oaks they had spared & the trees planted by the Genl and myself which are raising their tall branches to the Heaven which seems to smile on the desecration around them.”

Custis-Lee Family Tree on display at Arlington House

I do have a distant family connection to Robert E. Lee which I have blogged about in the past.

My 10th great-grandparents, Colonel William Randolph and Mary Royall Isham Randolph were Lee's third great grandparents. The Randolph's daughter, Elizabeth Randolph Bland, was the mother of Mary Bland Lee who was was Robert E. Lee's second great-grandmother.

For more blog entries, visit my Blog Home Page or to check out the genealogy research about my specific family lines, go to Haywood County Line Genealogy Page.

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