Friday, April 23, 2010

Robert E. Lee's Arlington House - Arlington, Virginia

Note: We are observing Confederate History Month by taking special looks at historic sites related to the War Between the States.

The Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter prompted President Abraham Lincoln to call for 75,000 volunteers to put down the "rebellion in the cotton states." Lincoln's move, in turn, infuriated the people of Southern states that had not yet left the Union and they quickly joined forces with the other states already forming the Confederate States of America. Among these was the Commonwealth of Virginia, where leaders expressed outrage and alarm that Lincoln's new army might try to march across Virginia soil for an attack on her sister Southern states.

The decision of Virignia to join the Southern Confederacy caused many of her native sons to make difficult decisions about their own futures. Not least among these was Colonel Robert E. Lee, a U.S. Army officer who watched events unfold from his home at Arlington House, a beautiful mansion that overlooked the city of Washington, D.C. from the heights on the Virginia side of the Potomac River.

Lee had been married at Arlington in 1831 and he knew that any war between North and South would likely turn his own yard into a battlefield. His decision became truly significant, because he was offered command of the army that Lincoln was raising to destroy the Confederacy. Like many Southerners, however, Lee believed that his home state was part of a voluntary Union and felt that the founding fathers, of whom his own father was one, had intended for the states to remain strongly independent of the central government.

Forced with making a decision that could have made him a hero across the North, he chose instead to remain loyal to his home state and declined the offer to command Lincoln's army. When Virginia left the Union, he offered his services to his home state and was quickly named commander in chief of Virginia's military. He eventually became the Confederacy's most famed general, but in 1861 he was but one of many Southern officers who volunteered to defend their home states.

The war cost Lee his own home, as Arlington House was quickly occupied by Union troops. The grounds today make up Arlington National Cemetery. To learn more about this remarkable historic site, please visit

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