Arlington National Cemetery: 10 Cool Facts

Just across the Potomac River from Washington D.C. sets 624 acres of history in the form of death. Located in the State of Virginia is Arlington National Cemetery where many military veterans are buried.

Arlington has a history that is quite interesting. In today’s post, we are going to cover 10 cool facts about Arlington National Cemetery.

1: Confiscated From Robert E. Lee’s Wife. The original owner of the Arlington property was George Washington Parke Custis. He was the Grandson of George and Martha Washington. When he passed away, the property was handed down to his daughter, Mary Anna Custis Lee. Mary married Robert E. Lee who at the time was an officer in the United States Army.

When the Civil War began, Virgina seceded from the Union, and Lee began his leadership of Confederate forces. Mary Anna stayed on at the Arlington property while her husband battled against Union forces.

The deaths of Union forces were immense, and the cemeteries that were used were nearly full. Arlington stood on high ground over the capital, so the Union leaders decided that they could solve 2 problems. Mary Anna escaped as Union forces overtook Arlington to be used as a cemetery. They were joyful that they had just taken General Lee’s home.

2: First Military Burial. Before Arlington was designated a military cemetery on June 15th, 1864, the first military burial was held there on May 13th, 1864. Private William Christman who was a member of the 67th Pennsylvania Militia Infantry was buried there.

3: Supreme Court Rules Against The Federal Government. Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Custis Lee’s son: George Washington Custis Lee sued the Federal Government claiming they illegally obtained Arlington. The Supreme Court ruled in Lee’s favor, and the court said Arlington was rightfully his.

Would the Government now have to move all the dead to another location?

Lee sold the land back to the Government for a total of $150,000. In today’s money, that would amount to approximately $3,200,000.

4: United State’s Soldiers From Every War Are Buried At Arlington. Before anyone cries foul, yes, you are correct…the cemetery started during the Civil War. What about Soldiers that fought in the Revolutionary War or the War of 1812? How can they be at Arlington.

The bodies of some military veterans from earlier wars were moved to Arlington. Yes, it is true; Arlington holds Soldiers from every war.

5: 3 Enemies Are Buried At Arlington. During World War II, there were Prisoner’s Of War kept near Washington D.C. The 2 Italian and 1 German prisoners died while in captivity. Following the Geneva Convention guidelines to proper burial, the enemy prisoners were buried on the grounds of Arlington.

It is estimated that there are nearly 60 other foreigners buried at Arlington. They were allies who were in disasters that included American Soldiers.

6: Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier. There are approximately 5,000 unknown Soldiers buried in the area known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This Tomb was established in 1921 honoring unknown Soldiers from World War I. It also holds unknown service members from World War II and the Korean War.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. This is done by the 3rd United States Infantry (The Old Guard), and was started in 1948.

7: The Vietnam Unknown Soldier. In #6, we mentioned unknowns from other wars, but some may have wondered about unknowns from Vietnam. There was only one and this Soldier is no longer unknown.

For many years this Soldier was within the Vietnam Tomb of the Unknown, but DNA testing determined he was 1st Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie of the United States Air Force. His A37 Dragonfly was shot down near An Lôc, Vietnam.

Upon receiving notification, the 1st Lieutenant’s body was transferred to his family in Missouri. He now lays in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St Louis County.

8: Weekday Burials. It seems like a high number, but Arlington National Cemetery averages 25-30 burials each day of the week, and 5 to 8 burials on Saturday.

Flags at Arlington are lowered to half-staff 1/2 hour before services are held each day, and they are not raised until 1/2 hour after the last funeral of the day is held.

9: Trees of Honor. There are a total of 36 trees that are in honor of Medal of Honor recipients. These trees are descendants of historic trees. They include:

  1. Water Oak – Martin Luther King Jr.

  2. Crape Myrtle – Hattie Neal

  3. Sweetgum – Robert E. Lee

  4. Cottonwood – Ute Council

  5. Charter Oak – The Colonists

  6. Northern Red Oak – Nathan Hale

  7. Japanese Cherry Tree – Japanese Emperor Mutsuhito

  8. White Oak – Christopher Columbus

  9. Water Oak – Jesse Owens

  10. Water Oak – Helen Keller

  11. Sycamore – President Dwight D. Eisenhower

  12. Overcup Oak – President Abraham Lincoln

  13. Sycamore – Battle of Antietam

  14. Sycamore – Gettysburg Address

  15. Red Maple – Walden Woods

  16. Sycamore – Henry Ford

  17. Red Maple – Charles Lindberg

  18. Southern Magnolia – Battle at Champion Hill

  19. Green Ash – George Washington Carver

  20. Cottonwood – Lewis & Clark

  21. Black Locust – Fort Atkinson

  22. Sycamore Maple – Washington Crossing

  23. White Oak – Guilford Courthouse

  24. Pignut Hickory – Montpelier

  25. Black Locust – Independence Hall

  26. Apple – Haines Family

  27. Sycamore – General Marquis de Lafayette

  28. Apple – From the first delicious apple in Iowa

  29. Red Oak – President Woodrow Wilson

  30. White Ash – Harriet Beecher Stowe

  31. Green Ash – Fort Ticonderoga

  32. Osage Orange – Patrick Henry

  33. American Holly – President George Washington

  34. Sycamore – John and Samuel Pringle

  35. White Ash – Eleanor Roosevelt

  36. Red Maple – The Minutemen

10: Slaves at Arlington. An area of Arlington was given for freed slaves to reside and farm. There became a large community of over 4,000 emancipated slaves. It was known as Freedman’s Village. There was a school, a hospital and a mess hall.

These freed slaves had a burial area designated for them. It is located in section 27 of the cemetery.

Bonus Cool Fact

There are some famous people buried at Arlington that you may not realize. They include:

  • Lee Marvin. Actor and World War II Veteran.

  • Joe Louis. Former heavyweight boxing champ.

  • Medgar Evers. Civil rights leader.

  • Thurgood Marshall. 1St African American Supreme Court Justice.

  • Glen Miller. Big Band leader. His body was never recovered from a World War II plane crash, but he is honored with a headstone.

  • Audie Murphy. Actor and highly decorated Soldier from World War II.

Final Thoughts

Arlington National Cemetery has a plethora of historical cool facts. I hope you learned something new today with this post. Please give us your opinions and comments below.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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