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The Story of Arlington

During the  Civil War many southern landowners lost the rights to their home and property, due to a law enacted by the Union Congress that allowed the North to levy taxes on property that fell into their hands. Since the landowners were unable to cross lines to pay their taxes, the land was confiscated and sold at auction. This is the true story of Arlington and and how it came to be, with a few story twists along the way.

Confiscation For Non-Payment

In the year 1862  a southern landowner was away at war when his wife was notified that they owed 92.07  in taxes on their home and land.  She didn’t want to lose their home, but because of illness, she was unable to make the journey to pay the taxes so she gave her nephew the money and asked him to do it for her. Imagine his shock and surprise when he arrived and handed over the cash, and was told by the tax commissioners that they could not accept it because it was not paid in person by the landowner or his spouse. The land and home were then confiscated for non-payment of taxes and quickly put up for auction.

Only One Bidder At Auction

The day of the auction dawned and there was only one bidder on the parcel of land in question. You guessed it; the U.S. Government, which purchased it for $26,800 which was $7,300 less than the appraised value.  According to government paperwork, the land was to be used for “government use, for war, military, charitable and educational purposes.” The government wanted that land and they succeeded in its quest to own it.  Before the sale was actually finalized, Union Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs began to bury Union dead as close to the mansion house as possible, and all reports were that it gave him great satisfaction.

Arlington Mansion and Land

This land and mansion I speak of belonged to the South’s great warrior, General Robert E. Lee. That’s right, all the land that became Arlington National Cemetery, where we bury our honored dead, where one of our Presidents lies with an eternal flame burning at his grave, once belonged to Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  It’s said he never set foot inside his home again. As for Mrs. Lee, she visited it only once for a few moments, and had to find another place to live. They lost everything they owned. But there’s more to this story you don’t want to miss, keep reading.

The original Lee home after occupation by Union soldiers.

Photo Credit

After The War and After Court

After the Civil War ended, General Lee’s son Custis sued to recover his property on the premise of  being deprived of his inheritance. The Supreme Court found in his favor and Custis then could have kept the property for himself and his own use. But there were already 20,000 dead Union soldiers buried on his land, thanks to the efficiency of General Meigs. Instead of insisting they all be exhumed and buried elsewhere, which he legally could have done, he was a man with a compassionate heart, so he agreed to negotiate with the government for a valid sale of his home place.  In the end, he agreed to accept  the full amount of the land and property appraisal and extra funds for being deprived of his inheritance. The Court awarded him in the 1882 case of United States v. Lee,  the whopping sum of $150,000 dollars which in those days was a stupendous amount of money. But the best is yet to come.

The REAL Twist In The Story

But here’s the twist you weren’t expecting. General Lee’s son and heir, Custis Lee, walked into a room on March 31, 1883 and signed over the title to Arlington House and the land to the United States Government. The person receiving the title documents for the government was none other than Robert Todd Lincoln, the son of Robert E. Lee’s nemesis, the assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. Life certainly has its odd twists and turns, don’t you think?

Side Note:  Another story that’s also connected with Arlington that you might like is Tomb of the Unknowns Guards. But please click on this link after you finish THIS story.

For more odd stories about the Civil War or the history of General Robert E. Lee, you might be interested in these books, available from Amazon on this page.

Civil War Curiosities: Strange Stories, Oddities, Events, and Coincidences


Best Little Ironies, Oddities & Mysteries of the Civil War


Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee