Arlington National Cemetery is comprised of land that once belonged to Confederate General E. Lee. His wife Mary Custis Lee had inherited the 1,100-acre plantation called Arlington from her father George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Washington and step-grandson of George Washington.
The Union Army confiscated the Arlington plantation property early in the Civil War.
Although many believed the occupation of the estate was an intentional insult towards the Lee family, the real reason for confiscation of the property was a military necessity. Arlington House was located on high ground overlooking Washington, D.C., which would have posed a tempting target for Confederate artillery.
Every federal building in the city, including the White House and Capitol, would have been vulnerable to attack by Confederate artillery fire.
Throughout the war, federal troops used the land as a camp and headquarters with forts constructed and incorporated into the defenses of Washington, DC, including Fort Whipple (now Fort Myer) and Fort McPherson.
General Lee deeply regretted the loss of his home at Arlington. During the early stages of the war, foreseeing the probable loss of his home and belongings, Lee wrote to his wife about Arlington:
It is better to make up our minds to a general loss. They cannot take away the remembrance of the spot, and the memories of those that to us rendered it sacred. That will remain to us as long as life will last.