Arlington National Cemetery history

The history of Arlington National Cemetery, also known as ANC, dates back to early 19th century. During this period, the area was known as the Arlington Plantations, owned by a step-grandson of George Washington. In the center of the plantations lied the Arlington House, which still stands as a centerpiece of today’s cemetery. The estate was later passed down to Robert E. Lee, a military academy graduate and a United States Army officer.

Civil War

During the outbreak of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln offered Lee the command of the Federal army. Lee didn’t want to give Lincoln an answer right away, as he wanted to see how the state of Virginia would act.

Virginia had not yet taken side in the civil war, but when they later did, the chose the Southern Confederate side. Lee did the same thing, and became a commander of the Army of Northern Virginia instead of a Union commander. This gave Lee a poor reputation amongst the Union officers.


During the Civil War, the hospitals and burial grounds near Washington DC became overcrowded. In 1864, Quartermaster General Montgomery C Meigs suggested that Lee’s Arlington Estate and its surroundings would be acquired and made into a cemetery for Union casualties. The acquired surroundings were also an important strategic area for the defense of Washington DC, as it lied on the opposite side of the Potomac River.

A national cemetery

After the Civil War, an heir to Lee’s acquired property sued the government for their claiming of the land. The Supreme Court ruled in the favor of the Lee’s heir in which the land was returned. A year later, the land was sold back to the government and it has ever since been used as a national cemetery.

Why visit ANC ?

Arlington National Cemetery is one of the very largest cemeteries in whole United States. Today’s Arlington National Cemetery is divided into several sections, depending on during which war the individual died or his/her occupation.

A grand military cemtery

Veterans from all the nation’s wars are buried in the cemetery, from the American Revolution through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In total, more than 300,000 people are buried in this cemetery, making it the second largest of all the 130 national cemeteries in the United States. The largest one is the Calverton National Cemetery, on Long Island, New York.

Military memorials

This cemetery also holds more then the plus 300,000 graves. Within the cemetery lies several memorials, often dedicated to a specific war, a specific regiment or to an individual. One can for example find a white statue dedicated to all the army nurses, known as the Nurse Memorial and the USS Maine Memorial which consists of a salvaged mast from the sunken ship USS Maine.

Arlington Memorial Amphitheater

Near the center of the cemetery lies the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater. The marble theater was built between 1915 and 1920 as a place for honoring US soldiers. Today, state funerals and memorial days are held annually on the site. It is also the home of the Tomb of the Unknowns, also known as Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The tomb can be found just east of the theater, on the top of a hill, overlooking Washington DC. The tomb has become one of the most popular places in the cemetery. It is the grave of unidentified soldiers from several major wars, including the First and Second World War, the Vietnam War and the Korean War.

The tomb however, doesn’t only honor these specific soldiers, but rather all soldiers who died for their country but who never was identified.

The cemetery of today

Today, the Arlington National Cemetery conducts more than 6000 burials each year. The funerals, including interments and inurnments, average well over 20 per day. 30 minutes before the first funeral until 30 minutes after the last funeral each day, the flags in the cemetery are flying at half-staff.

The cemetery is however not only a place of grief, but also a place to remember all what these people fought for and to honor their ultimate sacrifice.

ANC location

The Arlington National Cemetery is located in eastern United States, in Arlington County, near Washington D.C. The cemetery is situated directly across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

The cemetery is easily accessed by metro as it is served by Washington Metro system’s Blue Line. Get off at Arlington Cemetery station. For the exact location of Arlington National Cemetery, check out the location map to the right!

ANC Video

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