Arlington National Cemetery

On May 13, 1864, Union soldiers buried the remains of 21-year-old Pvt. William Henry Christman of the 67th Pennsylvania Infantry, who had died two days earlier in a Washington, D.C., hospital from complications related to measles. The Civil War was entering its third year, and cemeteries in the capital were full. So Pvt. Christman was laid to rest in a new burial ground on the Virginia side of the Potomac River, on the edge of an estate once belonging to Confederate general Robert E. Lee—thus becoming the first soldier interred in what is now Arlington National Cemetery. One month later, the War Department officially designated Lee’s estate as a military cemetery. The action was instigated by Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs, who considered the Confederate general a traitor and wanted to make sure his family could never return to their home. Today Arlington National Cemetery covers 624 acres and contains more than 300,000 graves. It averages 28 funerals a day, Monday through Friday. Veterans of every conflict since the Revolutionary War are buried there. Until 1967 all honorably discharged veterans could be buried at Arlington. Since that time, to conserve space, the Army has restricted burials to those who meet certain requirements, such as members of the armed forces who die on active duty or who serve long enough to officially retire. Arlington National Cemetery is home to several famous monuments including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, President John F. Kennedy’s grave, and the Lee mansion, the latter maintained by the National Park Service as a memorial to Robert E. Lee. Most striking, however, are the miles of small, white stones marking the graves of those who served their country. They make the place one of the nation’s most revered grounds.

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