On June15, 1864, Robert E. Lee's home area (Arlington, Virginia) became a military cemetery. An excerpt from the article:
"In the spring of 1864, as the Civil War entered its third year, the Union Army began an offensive designed to finally crush the Confederate Army. As fighting intensified, Washington hospitals—in many cases, converted churches, public halls, or governmental buildings—were flooded with wounded soldiers, brought up the Potomac from battlefields in Virginia and elsewhere.
Describing the hospitals, Washington journalist Noah Brooks wrote: “Maimed and wounded…. arrived by hundreds as long as the waves of sorrow came streaming back from the fields of slaughter…. They came groping, hobbling, and faltering, so faint and so longing for rest that one’s heart bled at the piteous sight.” As many of these men died, cemeteries in the city and surrounding areas filled to capacity.
To relieve the desperate situation, the Army started burying soldiers along the northern border of the Arlington estate, approximately one half mile from the mansion-headquarters, in May of 1864. Meanwhile, the office of Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs set about the task of identifying an appropriate place for a new, offical cemetery. Meigs did not have to look very far.
As the Army had occupied Arlington since 1861 and the U.S. Government had legally purchased the property at public auction in January 1864, it emerged as a logical choice. The fact that the land had also been the plantation home of Robert E. Lee probably made it even more attractive to Meigs, who formally proposed Arlington as the site of the new cemetery in a letter to Secretary of War Stanton on June 15, 1864. The same day, Stanton approved Meigs’ recommendation and instructed that part of the Arlington Estate, “not exceeding two hundred acres” be surveyed and laid out for the national cemetery.
The Republican press hailed the choice of Arlington. On June 17, the National Republican reported:
The ‘powers that be’ have been induced to appropriate two hundred acres, immediately around the house of General Lee, on Arlington Heights, for the burial of soldiers dying in the army hospitals of this city. The grounds are undulating, handsomely adorned, and in very respect admirably fitted for the sacred purpose to which they have been dedicated. The people of the entire nation will one day, not very far distant, heartily thank the initiators of this movement…. This and the contraband establishment there are righteous uses of the estate of the rebel General Lee, and will never dishonor the spot made venerable by the occupation of Washington."