Memorial Day: a national holiday in America for remembering and honoring those who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
Anyone who is middle aged or older probably remembers the news commentator Paul Harvey. His broadcasts called “The Rest of the Story” held us spellbound as he narrated tales of intrigue and surprise endings.
Recently I learned that the tale of Arlington National Cemetery could qualify for an episode of “The Rest of the Story.”
Arlington is one of the most stirring national memorials in our country. Not only is it the final resting place of dignitaries such as President John F. Kennedy and wife Jacqueline, but also Robert Todd Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln, and Mary Lee Fitzhugh Custis, daughter-in-law of our first president.
What is most fascinating is the thread connecting George Washington’s relatives to Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s, which eventually led to an encounter with Abraham Lincoln’s son. It began at Arlington.
Purchased as a farm by President George Washington’s adopted stepson, John Parke “Jacky” Custis, Arlington was intended to be a place where Jacky and his family could live close to his parents at Mount Vernon.
After John Custis died, however, his son George Washington Parke Custis inherited the land and called it Mount Washington, in honor of his famous adoptive grandfather. “Wash” as he was called, wanted to create a shrine to the father of our country.
Wash Custis, who later changed the name from Mount Washington to Arlington, built a mansion there and displayed artifacts from Washington’s life.
The plot thickens “Wash” Custis had only one surviving child, a daughter, Mary. And she just happened to marry a famous man—Robert E. Lee—who was then a lieutenant, and the son of Washington’s trusted cavalry commander during the Revolutionary War. Robert E. Lee (between military assignments) and Mary and their family lived at Arlington for 30 years
Then the Civil War began. Due to Lee’s ties to Washington, he was offered command of the Union army. He turned it down. Winfield Scott, General in Chief of the Army, said, “Lee, you have made the greatest mistake of your life, but I feared it would be so.”
As you know, Lee went to Richmond to become commander of the Confederacy or the “Rebels” as they liked to call themselves.
End of Part One. See this blog on Memorial Day for Part Two--the rest of the story!