May of 2014 marks the 150th year of the Arlington National Cemetery. Along with Mill Springs National Cemetery, Arlington has the distinction of being the oldest military burial ground in the United States. The military cemetery is located in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial. In May of1864 the first military burials took place in Arlington, one month before its establishment as a national cemetery.
The land Arlington now sits on was originally acquired by George Washington Parke Curtis, the step-grandson and adopted son of U.S. President George Washington. In 1802 Curtis began the construction of his home, the Arlington House. The estate was later passed down to Curtis’s daughter, Mary Anna, who had married U.S. Army Officer Robert E. Lee.
During the American Civil War, Union and Confederate casualties were filling up hospitals and burial grounds around Washington D.C., so it was proposed by a Union general in 1864 that the 200 acres of the enemy General Robert E. Lee’s family property at Arlington should be seized and used as a cemetery.
By the end of the civil war, more than 16,000 graves of both Northern and Southern soldiers were buried on the property. The grounds had become a national memorial following the war, and both North and South Generals were buried on the property.
Notably, there are 3,800 former slaves buried in Arlington, as well as former President John F. Kennedy, and William Howard Taft.