A Most Hallowed Ground By Sue Eckhoff, Grundy County Heritage Museum
December 7, 2012
Already by the spring of 1864, the Union dead had completely filled the military cemeteries of Washington and Alexandria. Secretary of War Stanton ordered the Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs to choose a new site. Meigs was a Georgian who had once served under Robert E. Lee in peacetime, but had developed an intense hatred for all southerners who fought against the union he still served. Without hesitation, he picked Robert E. Lee’s lawn at Arlington for the new army cemetery and ordered the Union dead to be laid to rest within a few feet of the front door of the man he blamed for their deaths, so that no one could ever again live in the house. Lee had moved out of the house in 1861 after taking command of the Virginia State Military, and in 1864 the Federal Government repossessed the property over failure to pay taxes and had put it up for auction where a tax commissioner purchased it for government, military, charitable or educational purposes, thus becoming Arlington National Cemetery. In August of 1864, Meigs personally inspected the site, and was furious to find that he had been disobeyed. Officers stationed there had buried the first bodies out of sight, in a distant corner of the estate that was once reserved for the burial of slaves. He immediately ordered the twenty-six Union coffins be brought to Arlington and then watched personally as they were lowered into the ground in a round ring around Mrs. Lee’s old rose garden. Later he would order built at the center of that garden a Tomb of the Unknown Dead, filled with the anonymous bones of eleven hundred soldiers gathered from unmarked graves on battlefields within twenty-five miles of Washington. In October, 1864, Meigs own son was killed by Confederate guerrillas in the Shenandoah Campaign and was buried in his father’s old commander’s lawn. The men Grant was sending to fight Robert E. Lee were being buried in Robert E. Lee’s own front yard. That yard became Arlington National Cemetery, the Union’s most hallowed ground.
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