Arlington National Cemetery Established, 1864

2021-06-14T16:49:46-05:00June 14, 2021|HH 2021|

“Do not move the ancient landmark which your fathers have set.”
—Proverbs 22:28

Arlington National Cemetery Established, 1864

George Washington Parke Custis grew up in the household of President George Washington in New York, Philadelphia and Mount Vernon. Custis’s father had died at Yorktown shortly after the surrender of the British Army there in 1781, and George (nicknamed “Wash”) and his sister Nelly were taken in by Martha Washington, their grandmother. Custis eventually married and had but one legitimate child that lived to adulthood, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, who married Army officer Robert E. Lee. The Lees inherited the magnificent plantation house called “Arlington” that sits on a high bluff overlooking Washington, D.C. from the Virginia side of the Potomac River. The house was full of artifacts, furniture, and other possessions of George Washington, the man Robert E. Lee most admired and patterned his life after.

Arlington National Cemetery in the foreground, with Arlington House on the hilltop overlooking the cemetery. The flag in front of the house is flown at half mast during funerals.

Upon the secession of Virginia from the Union, the Lees departed Arlington, giving the keys to a trusted servant and instructing the other ones to continue their routines and take care of the property until the Lees’ return. On May 24, 1861, 14,000 Union troops crossed the Potomac River into Virginia, and Arlington House and property were occupied by soldiers in blue. Mrs. Lee, in a real fury, wrote letters to the occupiers asking them to allow the Lee servants access to Washington, where some of their families lived and where they pursued some of the supply and business of the plantation. General Irvin McDowell, a good friend of General Lee, accommodated Mrs. Lee also, by storing the George Washington artifacts in D.C., after some were stolen by marauding soldiers. He also lived in a tent on the lawn instead of occupying the house.

Maj. Gen. Irvin McDowell, USA (1818-1885)

Robert Edward Lee (1807-1870)

Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee (1807-1873)

Arlington Cemetery is just one of the iconic stops on our Heart of American History tour October 11-15! Learn More >

With the coming of serious combat at First Manassas, the Peninsula Campaign, and the succession of battles of 1862-3, multiple thousands of wounded soldiers packed Washington, D.C. Twenty-two new hospitals were created just to house the wounded from the Peninsula battles. Thirteen churches were filled with the sick and wounded, along with the Smithsonian, Capitol Building, Georgetown College, Republican headquarters, and many canvas tents erected everywhere space could be found. For the next three years, more than 50,000 patients crowded the Capitol. Thousands of soldiers died. By the end of 1862, Congress had authorized fourteen new military cemeteries around Washington. In 1864 Arlington was added to the list of National Cemeteries, with the burial of a twenty-one-year-old private from Pennsylvania.

Headstone of Pvt. William Henry Christman (1844-1864), the first soldier to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery

An aerial view of a portion of Arlington National Cemetery. Arlington House can be seen in the background.

The Federal Government had placed a large tax on the Arlington Estate and many others around northern Virginia. When the tax bills went unpaid because the owners were behind Confederate lines, the property was auctioned. Mary Lee had sent a cousin to the tax office to pay the fee, but was told that the owner had to appear in person. Mrs. Lee was crippled and living in Richmond. The government bought the property. One of the Lees’ slaves—James Park, who had remained behind to tend the property—buried the Union soldiers in the “lower cemetery” far from the house, but with the wave of casualties from the Overland Campaign and the overwhelming numbers of men dying from disease, the burial grounds quickly expanded. Officers were buried near the house, at higher elevation and with more pomp than the common soldiers, beginning with Captain Albert H. Packard of the 31st Maine, on May 16, 1864, who was buried in the Lee garden. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and Quartermaster Department head Montgomery Meigs, both of whom hated Robert E. Lee, determined to make Arlington forever uninhabitable by living persons, and declared 200 acres of the estate a National Cemetery on June 15, 1864.

US Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton

General Montgomery Meigs, USA

With the end of the war, the Lees unsuccessfully sued to get their Arlington property from the Federal Government, although they were paid for the seizure, despite the graves of 12,000 Union soldiers. Determined to prevent the Lees from returning, Meigs sent crews to unearth Union graves around Virginia battlefields to keep the cemetery expanding, adding 2,000 more men, most of them unknowns. Meigs promoted the building of larger and larger monuments and memorials, turning the cemetery into the premier final resting place of soldiers.

Many generations of soldiers are laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery

The original 200 acres set aside for a cemetery has grown to 639 acres. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is guarded there every day of the year, as it looks out over the more than 400,000 graves. About 400 Medal of Honor recipients are buried there, along with five 5-star Generals and two Presidents of the United States. Soldiers who die on active duty, retired military service members and certain family members are entitled for burial at the Arlington National Cemetery. There is a beautiful monument designed by Moses Ezekiel dedicated to the Confederate dead, and the Arlington mansion of Robert E. Lee still stands, and is in the process of preservation. Every American should visit Arlington and reflect on the sacrifices made to protect their liberties and their homes.

Volunteers place roses and carnations on the graves of fallen soldiers and their spouses in honor of Memorial Day

19th Century English Prime Minister William Gladstone made a trenchant observation regarding national burial practices:

“Show me the manner in which a nation or a community cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.”

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery

Resources for Further Study

  • On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery by Robert M. Poole

Treaty of Tordesillas, 1494

2021-06-07T14:13:53-05:00June 7, 2021|HH 2021|

“Cursed is he who moves his neighbor’s boundary mark. And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” —Deuteronomy 27:17

Treaty of Tordesillas, June 7, 1494

In the year of 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, or so I learned at an early age. In fact he came to the Americas four times, never setting foot on the North American continent. The Caribbean islands and South America, however, fell under the gaze and tread of the Genoese Admiral of the Ocean Seas, who laid claim to all of it for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Those two monarchs petitioned the Spanish-born Pope in Rome—Alexander VI—to issue bulls (a formal and legally binding papal declaration) affirming a geographical line that would give to Spain all the land of the New World. Catholic Portugal, home of the leading European maritime explorers prior to Columbus, cried foul and called for a bilateral meeting to adjust the global divisions that otherwise cut them out of their routes of discovery and trade. The Treaty of Tordesillas settled the matter, and the providential future languages, religion, and cultures of hundreds of millions of people was set in motion, and played out over the next five hundred years and beyond.

Pope Alexander VI (1431-1503)

Written in Spanish, the front page of this copy of the treaty is owned and held by Portugal

As the Roman Empire was falling apart in the fourth and fifth centuries, the province of Hispania, the Iberian Peninsula, fell under the sway of a Germanic horde known as the Visigoths, who mostly held to the heretical views of Arian theology. Most of the Roman citizens of Hispania (Spain) believed Trinitarian Christian doctrine. In the eighth century, following a hundred years or more of raids, Muslim Berbers and Arabs crossed from North Africa and conquered the Visigoths, establishing Muslim hegemony in its furthest western advance into Europe. The Reconquista began right away, in bits and pieces, and by the late 15th century, succeeded in pushing the Muslim rulers still in authority out of their pockets of resistance and back to North Africa. Two noble Spanish houses then united with the marriage in 1469 of two teenage royals of Aragon and Castile: Ferdinand and Isabella, who pooled their resources, blood, and kingdoms. The newfound wealth and unity enabled them to subsidize expeditions of exploration, which began with Christopher Columbus sailing westward to “The New World,” and expanded to multiple conquistadors over the next century.

Christopher Columbus appearing before King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain upon his return from exploring the Americas

Central and South America and the Caribbean hinted at wealth in gold, silver, gems, natural resources, and slaves beyond the wildest imagination of the Spanish monarchs. Their daring sea-captains and missions-minded priests anticipated new trade routes to the Orient also to the greater glory of Spain and the Roman Church. God, it seemed, had blessed the providential foresight and investment of the Spanish-speaking successors to the Roman Empire. To protect their claims, King Ferdinand concocted a plan to preempt competition from other European powers, especially Portugal, which shared the Iberian Peninsula with Spain.

The Cantino planisphere, completed by an unknown Portuguese cartographer in 1502, is one of the most regarded cartographic documents of all time. It depicts the world as it became known to the Europeans after the great exploration voyages at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century to the Americas, Africa, and India.

Portugal, the westernmost European nation, had fallen under the rule of the Visigoths in the same centuries as Spain, and was invaded by Muslim armies in kind in the 8th century. Taking to the mountains and providing refuge for Christians fleeing the North African raiders and conquerors (known collectively as Moors), certain noble Christian leaders provided a bulwark to keep the enemies out of the south of France, and initiated the re-conquest of the lands that would become the nation of Portugal. Great battles were fought over a six-hundred-year period (the Reconquista) until the Moors were finally driven out. In 1373 Portugal made an alliance with England, which is the longest-standing alliance between two countries in the world.

Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460), a son of King John I of Portugal, initiated what became known as “the Age of Discovery.” As the patron of discovery and exploration, Henry sent explorers through and around Africa, building a trading empire that eventually extended all the way to China. The Portuguese discovered the oceanic trade winds and currents that enabled them to travel thousands of miles. They built trading stations along the African coast, until Vasco de Gama became the first European trader to reach India by sea in 1498.

Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460)

When the Pope declared the demarcation line of the western world via papal bull in 1493, Portugal demanded a meeting to adjust the location of the line. The two countries met at Tordesillas in Spain and drew the line 1,185 miles west of the Cape Verde Islands on June 7, 1494. Every land west of that line would belong to Spain, and east of it to Portugal. As a result, Portugal conquered the largest nation, Brazil, in South America, having discovered it in 1500 (Pedro Cabral), but Spain took all the rest. The Treaty of Tordesillas was viewed by both nations as the open door of exploration and conquest of the New World, with papal blessing but without significant other European competition, for another century. Every South American and Caribbean island became the property of Spain, establishing with their conquests the Spanish culture, especially the Spanish language, Roman Catholic Church, and eventually, about 4 million African slaves to Latin America and 3.5 million to Brazil, collectively 95% of the total brought to the New World.

A map of South America as it appeared in 1650, showing areas claimed by Portugal, Spain and Holland, and both the Papal demarcation line of 1493, as well as the redrawn Tordesillas line of 1494

Frances Folsom Marries Grover Cleveland, 1886

2021-06-01T17:19:52-05:00June 1, 2021|HH 2021|

“Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies. The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil. She will do him good and not evil, all the days of her life.” —Proverbs 31:10-12

Frances Folsom Marries Grover Cleveland,
June 2, 1886

Only one President of the United States never married. The wives of all the others were, and are, known as “The First Lady,” during her husband’s Presidency. Several wives died before their husband’s term in office, for example, Rachel Jackson and Martha Jefferson. Some proved very influential over opinion and policy decisions of the President, especially Edith Wilson (Woodrow’s second wife), Eleanor Roosevelt, and Hillary Clinton, who later ran for President herself. Just as presidents are noted for “firsts,” First Ladies enter such statistical lists, often self-conscious of their unique status. Frances Folsom was the first First Lady married in the White House, the first to have a child in the White House, and the first to remarry after the death of her husband, in this case Grover Cleveland. She bore five children, the last one living till 1995, age 92.

The wedding of President Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom, June 2, 1886

Grover Cleveland entered the White House in 1884 at the age of 47, and a bachelor. The election campaign proved as nasty as could be, with the opposing Republicans, having been in power for the past twenty-eight years, hurling unprecedented invective, painting him as a rigid, unsociable rogue, and regaling the reading public with lurid stories, to counteract the real-life reputation of the President-elect as an honest, super-hard-working, rugged individualist. President Cleveland’s most capable sister Rose handled the White House receptions with energy and propriety, as the daughter of a Presbyterian minister might be expected to. To the slight discomfort of her brother, she frowned on serving wine (as a member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union), and reportedly “relieved the monotony of an hour of hand-shaking by conjugating Greek verbs behind her formal smile.” As the public came to know the ex-governor of New York and now President of the United States, Grover seemed both warmly human and personable; but nothing dispelled their prejudices like his marriage in the White House on June 2, 1886.

Rose Cleveland (1846-1918), sister of President Cleveland, who served as his White House hostess until his marriage to Frances in 1886

Frances (Folsom) Cleveland (1864-1947)

Grover Cleveland (1837-1908)

Grover had known Frances Folsom since she was born, the daughter of his oldest friend and law partner in Buffalo, New York, who had died at the age of thirty-seven. Though not her legal guardian, Grover bought her first baby carriage, and gave her advice and counsel from time to time through the years. At the age of twenty-one, the tall, graceful, intelligent and beautiful Frances exuded a warm personality, and a grace often remarked upon. Cleveland asked her mother if she objected to his writing her daughter, now a student in college. What was acquaintance and affection became romance, carefully guarded. The wedding was held in the White House, modestly decorated, and with only twenty-eight in attendance. During an informal reception following, a message of congratulations arrived from Queen Victoria.

The “Blue Room” of the White House, where Grover and Frances were married

President and Mrs. Grover Cleveland who were ages 49 and 21, respectively, at the time of their marriage

The newspaper paparazzi made the Cleveland honeymoon miserable and he never forgot nor forgave the “correspondents” that harassed and pursued them wherever they went. The impertinence of the press infuriated the President as they continued to follow his wife wherever she went and wrote scurrilous fake news constantly. Everyone noticed, however, the change in the President after his marriage, for Frances was “eager, full of spirits, fond of social life and ready in her girlish way to see everything.“ He seemed rejuvenated as a result. She proved to be the most charming woman in the White House since Dolly Madison more than sixty years earlier. Mrs. Cleveland had an unselfish and genuine interest in people and she so transformed the Presidential social milieu that for the first time in history the President’s wife became known as “the First Lady.”

The young, lively, fashionable Mrs. Cleveland brought a breath of fresh air to both the life of the President and consequently the White House, and quickly endeared herself to all she met

The Clevelands took a long trip around the nation and Frances charmed everyone. She spent long hours with Sarah Polk, the octogenarian wife of President James Knox Polk, in Nashville, discussing the life of a President’s wife, and how to cope with the strains and vicissitudes of life in the White House.

The inauguration of Benjamin Harrison, who defeated Cleveland for the Presidency in 1888. Cleveland is seen holding Harrison’s umbrella. Cleveland would only be absent the White House for four years before returning for a second term in 1893.

After Grover was defeated for a second term in office in 1888, the effusive Frances told the White House staff not to make any changes in the décor, saying that she and Grover would be back in four years, which turned out to be true. In the interim they had their first child, Ruth, after whom a chocolatier named a candy bar “Baby Ruth.” Upon their return to the White House after the election of ‘88, she had two children, Esther and Marion, while serving as First Lady.

Gray Gables—the home of the Cleveland family between Presidential terms and where two of their children were born—also served as Cleveland’s “Summer White House” during his second term as President

After his second term in office, the Clevelands moved to Princeton, New Jersey, where Frances bore two sons, and where Grover died in 1908, age 71. She married again in 1913, to a professor of archaeology, and remained a person of note in Princeton, where she led the fight against women’s suffrage, announcing that “women are not intelligent enough yet to vote.” Frances died in 1947 at the age of 84, and was buried with Grover, whose gravestone reflects both of their characteristic modesty in life, with only their names and dates. There is no reference to his amazing political record, high moral character, and constitutional and marital fidelity, or the fact that his wife made his Presidency more brilliant, delightful, charming and successful as First Lady.

The grave of Grover Cleveland (center), flanked by the graves of his wife Frances (right) and daughter Ruth (left), Princeton Cemetery, Princeton, NJ

Resources for Further Study

Grover Cleveland: A Study in Courage by Allen Nevins (1932)

George Washington on Freedom of Speech

2021-06-01T12:07:24-05:00June 1, 2021|Quotes|

As the publisher of Dr. Peter Lillback’s exhaustive biographical work says regarding the faith and character of George Washington in his book Sacred Fire, “It presents a man driven by the highest of ideals using Washington’s own writings, journals, letters, manuscripts, and those of his closest family and confidants to reveal the truth of this awe-inspiring role model for all generations. Dr. Lillback convincingly shows how, when faced with unprecedented challenges and circumstances, Washington ultimately drew upon his persistent qualities of character—honesty, justice, equity, perseverance, piety, forgiveness, humility, and servant leadership, to become one of the most revered figures in world history. George Washington set the cornerstone for what would become one of the most prosperous, free nations in the history of civilization.”

“[If] the freedom of Speech may be taken away. . . dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” —George Washington

Captain Kidd Executed for Piracy, 1701

2021-06-01T17:21:32-05:00May 24, 2021|HH 2021|

“Thou shalt not steal.” —Exodus 20:15

Captain Kidd Executed for Piracy, May 23, 1701

In the golden age of piracy, no pirate left a bolder trail, more details of his career, or more loot unaccounted for after his capture, than William Kidd. His case involved or implicated Lords of the highest rank in England, including the King himself, as initial investors in his enterprise. It began with letters of marque for privateering against the French, which quickly spun out of control to include the taking of prizes outside the law, mutinies, seizing English ships, hidden treasure and finally, arrest, incarceration, a sensational trial, and execution. And it was all recorded in detail, unlike most piratical activities of the 17th and 18th Centuries; some historians believe Captain Kidd a victim of politics and misunderstanding.

Captain William Kidd (1655-1701)

Greenock, Scotland, and across the Firth of Clyde towards Kilcreggan

William Kidd was born to a Presbyterian minister in Greenock, Scotland, at the height of the Second Scottish Reformation. Kidd went to sea at an early age, and by 1689 commanded a privateering ship, The Blessed William. He fought the French in the Caribbean on behalf of the co-monarchs William and Mary, though his crew hijacked the ship, leaving him stranded on the Island of Nevis. Within two years, Kidd landed in New York with a new ship and crew. He soon married a local heiress and established himself in several local business ventures. In 1695 William Kidd returned to London to raise money for another privateering venture, hoping to open an entirely new enterprise supported by men of wealth and influence.

William III of England (1650-1702)

Mary II of England (1662-1694)

Several Whig peers—and even the King—invested in Kidd’s scheme, forming a syndicate to enable him to purchase a large fighting ship, hire another tough buccaneering crew, and sail to the Indian Ocean to take both pirate ships and French merchantmen. The usual financial arrangements for paying the crew and the investors hinged on selling captured ships and contents in prize courts. Letters of marque were obtained to hunt down “Pirates, Freebooters, and Sea Rovers,” especially Captains “Thomas Tew, John Ireland, Thomas Wake and William Mace.” The King (William III), allowed for Kidd to skip the Admiralty Courts so he could receive direct payments himself!

An artist’s rendition of a scene aboard Captain Kidd’s ship while anchored in New York Harbor

The 34-gun Adventure Galley set sail in April 1696 for New York to recruit the 152-man crew described by the Governor of New York as “men of desperate fortunes, and necessitous of getting vast treasure.” Serving under Captain Kidd was no picnic, for he was “a very lusty man, fighting with his men on any occasion, often calling for his pistols and threatening any one that durst speak anything contrary to his mind to knock out their brains, causing them to dread him.”

The Charles Galley, a ship of similar build and contemporary of Adventure Galley

After months of no action, the crew became mutinous, and Kidd decided to attack the “pilgrim fleet” moving toward the Red Sea. The Adventure Galley then seized a merchant ship flying the English flag, the turning point in Kidd’s career. The Portuguese sent two warships to track down Kidd’s ship, now considered a pirate. He defeated them and sailed to a small group of islands nearby, where his crew committed various atrocities on the inhabitants. Captain Kidd struck down a recalcitrant crew member, who died the next day, Kidd saying he would be exonerated by friends in England. They next took the Quedah Merchant, flying the French flag, but with an English captain. That cargo was quickly sold so the crew could receive long deferred pay. He took over the captured ship and with a crew of just twenty men, sailed to the Caribbean.

The French pass Kidd acquired from the Quedagh Merchant

England declared Captain Kidd a pirate, alerting all the colonial governors to apprehend him and the crew if opportunity afforded. Unfortunately, Kidd got blamed for a number of depredations by other pirates, enhancing his reputation in a way guaranteed to be detrimental to his future. He returned to New York, hoping to negotiate a pardon from Governor Lord Bellomont, his business partner and financier of his voyages. After an absence of three years, Captain Kidd was reunited with his wife and daughters, and spent time on Gardiner’s Island off Long Island. Upon a visit to the governor, Kidd was arrested.

Richard Coote, 1st Earl of Bellomont and 12th Governor of New York (1636-1701)

The political interest in Kidd ran high in England also, for reputations were on the line and political scandals the finest grist for the news media of the day. The East India Company sought compensation and everyone wondered what happened to the treasure that Kidd allegedly accumulated but failed to cash in: jewels, gold bars, and silver. A warship carried Captain Kidd to England, where he spent time in three different prisons including the worst, Newgate. Kidd argued in court and to the Admiralty that he only took French ships and that his patrons would vouch for his honesty. As it turned out, they did not. Captain Kidd, pirate, was hanged May 23, 1701, age about 56.

The notorious Newgate Prison, London

The body of Captain William Kidd, gibbeted after execution as a warning to other would-be pirates, as was commonly done at the time

His Bible and several other artifacts from his life are on display at the Pirate Museum in St. Augustine, Florida, and his lost treasure—if there was such—remains undiscovered. He should have paid more attention to his Bible, and less to his lust for preferment, wealth, and fame.

Resources for Further Study

Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates, by David Cordingly (1995)

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