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Robert E. Lee, Arlington, and the Ministry of Truth

It is difficult to monitor the level of awareness of the effort to destroy the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. Moses Ezekiel, a Jewish Confederate Veteran, who created this work of art, is buried below the monument along with three other veterans. This hate-filled and apparently anti-Semitic agenda, pushed by Ty Seidule, is not unique in American history. The story of Arlington Cemetery reveals another unsavory episode—one involving Robert E. Lee, George Washington, and the Custis family.

Envisioning economic disaster, the Lincoln Administration was determined to deny independence to the seceding Southern States. In some circles, the decision to coerce the States back into the Union caused civility and respect to be cast asunder. One area of disrespect centered on Arlington, the home of Robert E. Lee and his family.

In the early 1800s the mansion at Arlington and the surrounding property (around 1100 acres) was owned by George Washington Parke Custis, “the only grandson of Martha Washington, related to her through her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis.” (Brownell) [George Washington helped raise G.W.P. Custis and his sister as his own at Mount Vernon.] Custis and his wife, Mary, had four children but only Mary Anna lived to adulthood. Mary Anna “married Robert E. Lee at Arlington House on June 30, 1831.” (Brownell) The Greek-styled Arlington Mansion, which rests on a hilltop with a clear view of Washington, D.C., became the couple’s home.

Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops from each State to invade the seceded States spurred Virginia’s departure from the Union. After serious deliberation, Robert E. Lee resigned his U.S. commission on April 20, 1861. He loved the Union but he loved Virginia (his country) more. Being descended from patriots, he understood that government at the point of a bayonet was anti-American to the core. Winfield Scott and Abraham Lincoln encouraged Lee to command Union forces, but Lee could not participate in the invasion of sovereign States. This clearly rankled the “nationalists” and created strong enemies for Lee and his family. These animosities eventually lead to the Lee family leaving their beloved residence.

Montgomery Meigs was U.S. Army Quartermaster. Although he spent much of his youth in Georgia, his ancestry was Northern (Pennsylvania). His father was a renowned physician who found his way South. Coming from a wealthy family, Meigs was a staunch nationalist, making him a philosophical enemy of the prevalent Jeffersonian philosophy in the South. As Quartermaster, Meigs sought a large piece of property close to D.C. to bury Union soldiers. This made Arlington a prime target. Using the property as a cemetery would strike a multi-faceted blow to Lee, who dared to side with his State.

“In 1862, a law was passed that allowed commissioners to collect taxes on properties in ‘insurrectionary districts’ in order to raise money.” (Franco) Tax payment was required either in person or via an authorized representative. Mary Anna’s poor health did not allow her to make the trip. “She sent her cousin to do so, but as he was not Mary Lee, the payment of $92.07 was not accepted and Arlington was sold to the government for $26,800 on January 11, 1864.” (Brownell) The federal government unscrupulously “obtained” the property.

After the war, family members unsuccessfully attempted to regain their illegally usurped property. General Lee’s eldest son, George Washington Custis Lee, did not give up, initiating a suit in 1873 to get the property back. The case (United States v. Lee) wound up at the Supreme Court and they ruled on December 4, 1882, the property had been illegally confiscated. The dubious manner in which Mary Lee’s cousin was denied the ability to pay the tax helped lead to a favorable verdict. The Lee’s legally got their property back, which meant the government was trespassing.

Custis Lee faced quite a conundrum—do you have the federal government dig up and re-inter those buried at Arlington and move all of the other illegally established offices on the property or do you compromise? Given the “reconciliation” sentiment at the time plus the nightmare of reinterring those buried at Arlington, Custis Lee compromised, choosing to accept the fair market value of $150,000.00 from the federal government—the same government that literally stole the property.

This episode in American history would bring shame to anyone with a conscience; however, it is unlikely the “Ministry of Truth” would allow any government school to cover it. Just how would you justify that Arlington National Cemetery originated on stolen property?

(Personal Note: My Great-Great Grandfather on my Father’s side was Pvt. Eli Webster Meggs, Pvt., Co. H, 4th Alabama Infantry. Where Montgomery Meigs was a scoundrel, soldiers like Eli Meggs were true patriots. Thank God I have found no family connection to Montgomery Meigs.)

Sources: “How Robert E. Lee's Home Became Arlington National Cemetery,” by Richard Brownell, May 2, 2018; “Arlington National Cemetery Was Once the Home of Confederate Army Commander Robert E. Lee,” by Samantha Franco, July 11, 2022; “The Scandalous History of Arlington National Cemetery,” by Kathy Benjamin, May 27, 2012.


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