November 25, 1997

In 1862, the United States Army took Arlington House away from General Robert E. Lee and his family.

They're trying to do it again.
  Arlington House under Union occupation in 1861. The home was originally seized to prevent Confederate forces from using it as an artillery emplacement against the Federal capital.

According to Edward M. Lee, Jr., president of the Society of the Lees of Virginia, the Army has revived a plan to develop the last remaining 24 acres of the original 1100-acre Arlington House property as a site for military burials. In a move eerily reminiscent of Federal Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs' decision 135 years ago to bury Union dead on the grounds of General Lee's family home, the Army is attempting to extend the active life of Arlington National Cemetery by an extra five years.

The plot of land in question, Section 29, is a largely undisturbed woodland ravine that sits close by the Custis-Lee Mansion, as the house is also known. Sixty-two species of birds make their homes in Section 29's enormous hardwoods, many of which date back to the Revolutionary War era and were among the last things General Lee saw when he left Arlington House in 1861 to offer his services to the Confederacy.

Section 29 contains the remains of the plantations's ice house and many unexcavated items discarded while the mansion was occupied, including kitchen items and tableware. Archaeologists have also found evidence of prehistoric quarrying and toolmaking on the site.

Public Resolution 68-74, passed in 1925, directed the United States Army, as custodians of Arlington National Cemetery, to restore Arlington House to the condition and appearance of the time when the Lee family was in residence. On June 29, 1955, the mansion was designated the official national memorial to General Lee. In 1975, the Army gave Section 29 to the National Park Service "to be set aside in perpetuity to preserve an appropriate setting for the Custis-Lee Mansion (now Arlington House)." Twenty years later, Congress (perhaps reacting to pressure from veterans' groups for more burial plots in the cemetery) stripped the Park Service of Section 29 and returned it to the Army for development.

Public outcry derailed the Army's plans in 1995, but a new attempt is now being made to push through the development of Section 29 for veterans' gravesites. Hearings on the matter have been scheduled for the first week in December.

Several alternatives will be on the table for consideration. Only one -- Alternative 3 -- can be considered acceptable. Alternative 3 states that no property will be transferred from the National Park Service to Arlington National Cemetery. All archeological and forest sites will be protected, and an appropriate setting for Arlington House will be preserved.

Arlington House stands today as the only national monument to General Robert E. Lee, a great American who served both the Confederate States Army and the United States Army faithfully for most of his adult life. The United States Army must not be permitted to continue its desecration of the only home General Lee ever called his own. Your letters, e-mails, and telephone calls to your representatives in Congress and to other public officials are desperately needed to save Arlington House.

  "I learn that my garden laid out with so much taste by my dear father's own hands has all been changed, the splendid forest leveled to the ground, the small enclosure allotted to his and my mother's remains surrounded closely by the graves of those who aided to bring all this ruin on the children and country. They are even planted up to the very door without any regard to common decency....Even savages would have spared that place...yet they have done everything to debase and desecrate it."

--Mary Custis Lee, 1866

The Virginia Division UDC maintains a list of electronic and snail-mail contacts for your convenience. We urge you to contact your senators, your Congressman, and the following public officials to express your displeasure and strong opposition to the Army's proposal:

A suggested letter might read as follows:
I strongly oppose Arlington National Cemetery's plans for extending gravesites into Section 29. In addition to destroying the delicate ecosystem of the 24-acre tract, the historical setting for Arlington House would also be ruined forever. The National Park Service has an obligation to preserve Arlington House and its environment so that the visitor can visualize it as it was when Robert E. Lee was last at home in 1861. I ask that Alternative 3 be the only choice for this precious tract of land and that absolutely no land be transferred for use by the Arlington National Cemetery.

Time is of the essence. Please make your voice heard NOW!

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