Saturday, May 25, 2013

Arlington National Cemetery


The Union Army occupied Arlington Heights in May, 1861, using Arlington House as headquarters. In building the defensive line around Washington, Arlington's forests were cut down, military roads were built, and entrenchments were dug. Fort Whipple was built on the estate, with several more forts around it.

Fences were torn down and existing farm structures were altered to meet army needs. Additional buildings were built to house soldiers, animals, and equipment. Efforts were initially made to protect the house and its contents, but those efforts lagged following the Union rout at Manassas in July, 1861. The house and its Washington relics became a curiosity for many soldiers stationed in the area to visit.

A Freedman's village was established on the property in 1863.

To gain legal control of the property, the federal government directed that property taxes due must be paid in person by the owner. The owner, Mary Custis Lee, was an invalid behind Confederate lines, and unable to appear in person, while her husband, Robert E. Lee, was commanding general of the Confederate Army. Mrs. Lee made arrangements for a relative to pay the taxes, but the government refused to accept the payment and confiscated the property.

After a long court battle after the Civil War, the Supreme Court ruled that the government had illegally seized Arlington, and awarded the title back to Mary Lee's oldest son Custis Lee, who had stood to inherit the estate after her death. Having no desire to live in a national cemetery, Custis Lee sold the property back to the government for $150,000.

Guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns

Tomb of the Unknowns
The white marble sarcophagus sits atop the tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.
Unknown Soldiers from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam are buried beneath the marble slabs in front of it.

The Tomb of the Unknowns is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in all weather, by an elite group of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) known as the Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknowns. Each soldier performs "walks" between guard changes of thirty minutes in the summer and one hour in winter and at night. For details on the ritual of the Changing of the Guard, see

A Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat ...

... turns and faces east for 21 seconds ...
... turns and faces north for 21 seconds ...
... executes a sharp "shoulder-arms" movement to keep his weapon on the shoulder closest to visitors to signify that he stands between the Tomb and any possible threat.

The sentinel then walks 21 steps in the opposite direction and repeats the process.
21 steps and 21 seconds symbolizes the highest military honor of the 21-gun salute.

The old wreath is removed (right) to make way for the new (left).

The Sentinel salutes the Tomb.

Laying of the new wreath.
Taps is played.
A final salute.
The Memorial Amphitheater
The view from Arlington House across Arlington Memorial Bridge to the Lincoln Memorial.

Click on the picture for larger view to see JFK gravesite just below drop-off to the left
of the flag pole in line with Memorial Drive and the Lincoln Memorial.

Jefferson Memorial (center)
JFK grave from above.

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