This Day in the Law
June 15

Arlington National Cemetery Established (1864)

On June 15, 1864, Arlington National Cemetery was established when United States Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton set aside 200 acres of land belonging to Robert E. Lee as a military cemetery.

Arlington House was an estate in Virginia that Robert E. Lee had inherited from his mother-in-law, who was a descendant of Martha Washington. At the beginning of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln offered Lee the opportunity to command the Union army. Lee declined, because he was a resident of Virginia and wanted to see which side Virginia would take in the war. When Virginia announced its secession, Lee took command of the armed forces of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Because of Lee’s decision and his subsequent success in defeating Union troops, Lee was regarded as disloyal by most Union officers. Civil War casualties were overflowing from hospitals and burial grounds near Washington, D.C., so Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs proposed that 200 acres of the Robert E. Lee family property at Arlington be taken for a cemetery. The decision was made to appropriate his farm, Arlington House, as a graveyard for the Union dead.

The government acquired the property from Lee’s family for $26,800. On June 15, 1864, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton officially established the cemetery. Veterans and military casualties from all of the nation’s wars are interred in the cemetery, ranging from the American Civil War through to the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq.