Joins the Confederacy

Lee and many other Americans viewed Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry as a sign that longstanding disagreements

^^ The Origins of Arlington National Cemetery

In 1857, Robert E. Lee's wife, Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee, learned that her father had died and left her his Virginia estate. This property, known as Arlington, included a fine mansion and beautiful grounds, but had fallen into a state of disrepair. Restoration of the estate became General Lee's responsibility, and he quickly took steps to improve the long-neglected land.

By 1861, Lee and his wife had made dramatic improvements in the Arlington estate. But two days after Lee resigned from the Federal Army in order to join the Confederate military, Union forces seized the property. Union officers promptly converted the mansion and surrounding grounds into a headquarters area for their army. The loss of Arlington, meanwhile, forced Lee's wife and other Custis family members to relocate to Richmond and other cities in Virginia. The Union Army officially confiscated (seized) the Arlington estate a short time later by taking advantage of a wartime law requiring property owners in occupied areas to pay taxes in person. Since General Lee could not pay his property taxes in person without being captured, the estate became the property of the federal government.

Arlington was first used as a cemetery for soldiers in 1864, when the Union Army set aside two hundred acres for burial of federal troops. By the end of the war the hills of the estate were dotted with graves marking the final resting place of thousands of Union soldiers. In 1882, Robert E. Lee's son George Washington Custis Lee sued the government for return of the land that had belonged to his ancestors. The government responded by offer-

within the United States over the issue of slavery might never be settled peacefully. These fears came true in the spring of 1861, when the nation's Northern and Southern regions went to war over the issue.

Many Northerners had become convinced that slavery was wrong. They wanted the Federal government to take steps to outlaw slavery or at least keep it from spreading beyond the Southern states where it was already allowed. But the Southern economy had become very dependent on slavery over the years, and white Southerners worried that their way of life would collapse if slavery was abolished (eliminated). They argued that each state should decide for itself whether to allow the practice. By 1861, Southern dissatisfac-

The Custis-Lee Mansion at Arlington National Cemetery. (Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

ing him $150,000 to purchase the property. Lee accepted the offer, and the property subsequently became Arlington National Cemetery.

Today, Arlington National Cemetery is the most famous cemetery in the United States. More than 175,000 American soldiers, including troops from every major war in which the United States has fought, are buried within its borders. Arlington is also the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which honors American servicemen who died in World War I (1914-18), World War II (1939-45), the Korean War (1950-53), and the Vietnam War (1955-75). Many famous Americans who devoted their lives to public service are buried at Arlington as well, including President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) and his brother Robert Kennedy (1925-1968).

tion with the North had become so great that several states decided to secede from (leave) the Union and form a new country that allowed slavery, called the Confederate States of America. The Northern states, however, were unwilling to see the United States split in two. They vowed to force the South back into the Union.

When the Civil War began in early 1861, Lee agonized over what he should do. He felt deep loyalty both to his country and to his native state of Virginia, which had voted to secede. Finally, though, he made up his mind. Turning down an offer to command all Union forces, he submitted his resignation from the U.S. Army in order to join the Confederate military. "With all my devotion to the Union and the feel-

Lee Predicts a Long War

When the Civil War began, many people in both the North and the South expressed great confidence that their side would achieve total victory within a matter of months. General Robert E. Lee, though, believed that neither side really appreciated the courage and determination of their opponent. In the following letter written by Lee on May 5, 1861, he expresses deep concerns about the toll that the war might take on the two sides:

[Politicians who predict an easy victory] do not know what they say. If it comes to a conflict of arms, the war will last at least four years. Northern politicians do not appreciate the determination and pluck [bravery] of the South, and Southern politicians do not appreciate the numbers, resources, and patient perseverance of the North. Both sides forget that we are all Americans. I foresee that the country will have to pass through a terrible ordeal, a necessary expiation (atonement or apology) . . . for our national sins.

As events turned out, Lee's prediction of a long and bloody conflict proved accurate. The Civil War lasted almost exactly four years and cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of young men.

ing of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home," he explained. "I have therefore resigned my commission in the army and, save in defense of my home state, with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed, I hope I may never be called upon to draw my sword."

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