GDG- If I ran the Cemetery
CWMHTours at aol.com
CWMHTours at aol.com
Thu Jan 5 10:07:40 CST 2012
I think you are hired!
Your Most Obedient Servant,
In a message dated 1/5/2012 1:12:51 A.M. Eastern Standard Time,
joadx1 at netscape.net writes:
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
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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