GDG- If I ran the Cemetery

Dave Gillespie gillespd at
Thu Jan 5 04:34:59 CST 2012

Hear, hear! Excellent response!
On Jan 5, 2012 1:12 AM, <joadx1 at> wrote:

> Esteemed GDG Member Contributes:
> I think that Mr. MacNeill's passionate explanation of his feelings about
> Arlington National Cemetery deserves a compassionate response.  As someone
> who makes his living balancing the historico-political claims of both the
> past and the present, I'd like to offer a sketch of what I would say if I
> was a private tour guide at Arlington.
> First, of course, I would introduce the place (never take that sort of
> thing for granted), explaining that this is Arlington National Cemetery,
> American "sacred ground" since the Civil War, established as a final
> resting place for the men and women who fight the nation's wars.
> I would also explain that there are other, non-military burials in the
> cemetery and say a few words about the process by which those happen and
> identify some of them.
> I would then turn to the question of how the Cemetery came to be, and
> would begin by pointing to the grand mansion.  I would explain that it was
> once the home of Robert E. Lee, though owned by his wife, who was the great
> granddaughter of Martha Washington, and thus a relation to George
> Washington.  I would then explain that this was a plantation, worked for
> generations by slave labor, which was seized by the forces of the Union
> Army when Robert E. Lee resigned his commission in the United States Army
> and cast his lot with the Confederacy, but that it only became a cemetery
> in 1864 when Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs, a Georgian who
> remained loyal to the United States, chose it as a final resting place for
> the Union soldiers who had died in the war, soldiers who included his own
> son.  I would note that he probably did so to prevent the Lee's from ever
> getting the plantation back, and would mention that they indeed tried to
> after the war, eventually, after R.E. Lee's death, receiving a cash
> settlement from the government, but not the house or grounds.
> This would only take a few moments.  I would sum up that this was a place
> that combined some of that which is both best and worst in American
> history: once a slave plantation, it has become a place where Americans
> honor those who die for her with a fitting resting place--and when that is
> not possible, with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as a symbolic monument
> to their sacrifice.  I would also explain that this is the great
> contradiction in American history: that America is at once the place that
> sufficiently values the common man (as no feudal European nation ever did)
> such that it established such a place as Arlington National Cemetery to
> honor the ordinary men and women who die for her.  And acknowledging that
> it was also once a slave plantation, I would note that it wasn't one
> anymore, precisely because of the sacrifice, best described in Lincoln's
> Gettysburg address, made by many of the men who were buried here.
> I would then ask my clients what they would like to see, and what details
> they would like to here further about, acknowledging that no single brief
> tour could exhaust everything there was to learn and see here.
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