Friday, May 1, 2015

Mrs. Lee's Rose Garden: The True Story of the Founding of Arlington by Carlo DeVito

I got the chance to visit Arlington National Cemetery about 24 years ago when I was in Washington, D.C. for a short weekend trip. I still remember being in awe of the story of how the cemetery came to be and the connection to Robert E. Lee's family.  Mrs. Lee's Rose Garden is a snapshot of three people:  Robert E. Lee, Mary Custis Lee, and Montgomery Meigs, taken at a time when our nation was divided in war. What at first became a means of revenge is now one of our nation's most revered monuments to bravery and sacrifice.

Arlington was the long held and loved home of the Custis family.  Mary Custis Lee, wife of Robert,  was the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington; her father was a custodian of much of the family treasures of George Washington himself.  Arlington was a jewel of a place, surrounded by rose gardens, acres of land, and sitting on a hill that overlooked a young Washington, D.C.  It was known as one of the most beautiful places around.  It was also the home of Robert E. Lee and his family.  Robert E. Lee was a well-known engineer with the United States Army in the years preceding the Civil War.  He, along with Montgomery Meigs, helped engineer the  flow of the Mississippi River near St. Louis, allowing the city to continue to grow and prosper.  The two were working comrades and friends.  Until the Civil War began.

Robert E. Lee made the incredibly hard decision to resign from the U.S. Army and take command of the Confederate Army.  He knew it would mean his family would have to leave their beloved home, Arlington--now in enemy territory.  His decision was not a light one, and made with a grave heart.  He chose his love of Virginia and his belief in state's rights over what would have been a comfortable, easy move:  to take command of the Union Army.  

Lee was immediately labeled a traitor, and the loudest voice in the mix was Montgomery Meigs.  Mrs. Lee, reluctant to leave her family home, finally packed up some of the precious family heirlooms and left just before her home was taken over by the Union Army.  She believed she would be back within weeks; no one thought the Civil War would last four years.  She left many family pieces in the attic and in the cellar of Arlington.  What she didn't realize was that she would never live at Arlington again.  

Meigs, really pissed at Lee, was the driving force behind the transformation of Arlington from a graceful family home to a cemetery for thousands.  I will leave the rest of the story for you to read, because it is a fascinating one.  

If you're interested in reading more on Arlington, here's a few titles you may like:

 On Hallowed Ground by Robert Poole is on my bookshelf, and I'll be reading it this summer.  Not only does it cover the early history of Arlington, it also discusses the burial of President Kennedy and other notables in U.S. history.  

This is a great book for history buffs, anyone thinking of traveling to Washington D.C. on vacation, or of course those with a fascination with all things Civil War.  It's a true tale of one family's sacrifice and how it broke their hearts. I can't wait to return to Arlington again someday and spend much more time exploring the home itself, as well as the cemetery.  What a beautiful, peaceful place.  If you're planning a trip to Washington D.C.,  make this a part of your visit.  You won't soon forget it.  

Rating:  7/10 for a brief, yet poignant look at the founding of Arlington National Cemetery.  A personal story of love and loss on many levels.

Available in hardcover and e-book.

1 comment :

  1. It sounds great. I grew up in Montgomery, Al. near mt. Meigs. I never put together that lee and Meigs were friends. I think I will download this book from Google play. Thanks for the blog.