Arlington National Cemetery historian Chris Warren joined Breitbart News Daily with SiriusXM host Stephen K. Bannon on Friday with a timely review of Arlington’s history for Memorial Day.
“We became a national cemetery, of course, during the Civil War, in 1864,” said Warren. “By the end of the war, over 15,000 service members were buried here at Arlington, and we’ve continued to be a national cemetery ever since. We’re administered by the United States Army, and have been since 1864.”
“We’re the final resting place, and kind of America’s national shrine, for our service members and family, who have sacrificed, and served their country honorably, and have earned, I think, the respect of all of us,” he said.
As Warren explained, Arlington’s deep roots into American history stretch all the way back to George Washington, as the land passed down through his family to Mary Custis, daughter of Washington’s adopted grandson. Mary Custis married a U.S. Army officer named Robert E. Lee in 1831.
“When he, of course, went into the Confederacy, he knew that this land on which the house resided, the 1,100-acre estate, was going to be taken by the U.S. Army,” said Warren. “If you’ve never been out here, the house itself is on some prominent high ground, overlooking Washington, D.C.”
Bannon added, for the benefit of listeners who have not had the honor of a visit, that Arlington offers “one of the most stunning views of Washington,” calling it an “absolutely magnificent place.”
Of course, at the time, Union military officials were also worried that it would be a magnificent place for Confederate forces to position their artillery. As the Arlington National Cemetery’s history of Arlington House points out, “Mid-19th-century artillery, situated on this elevated terrain, could easily range every federal building in the city, including the White House and Capitol.”
Warren noted that the Washington-Lee connection is poignant testimony to the relative youth of the United States, compared to the ancient European civilizations from which America grew.
The history of Arlington National Cemetery also began at a time when the wounds of the Civil War ran deep. Warren noted that 1864 was “really when Ulysses S. Grant starts his overland campaign, heading south towards Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.”
“The number of casualties coming back to Washington, D.C., for burial are just enormous at this time period,” he said. “In fact, the casualties are so bad Grant’s called a ‘butcher’ in many of the Northern newspapers. Lincoln believes that he’s not going to win re-election because the casualties are so extensive that period.”
Warren explained that Washington had “numerous hospitals that popped up during the war,” so “if you could survive your casualties from any of the battles, you would inevitably end up in hospitals in Washington, D.C.”
Unfortunately, he said, “Those hospitals had about a forty percent mortality rate,” so the vast majority of those interred during the Arlington Cemetery’s early days “were from diseases, dying in the hospitals of Washington, D.C.”
“Memorial Day is intimately tied with the history of Arlington. The first national commemoration occurred here,” Warren said.
“The 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, the ‘Old Guard,’ who are the Tomb Sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the whole regiment was out yesterday decorating the cemetery. They placed over 230,000 flags on every individual headstone. Just to come out and see kind of the ceremonial aspects, and the pageantry, and the beauty of the cemetery, I think, is one thing” Warren recommended visitors experience.
“On Sunday, we have a tour of the cemetery that I’m running as well, with my colleagues–the history of Memorial Day, Decoration Day, here at Arlington,” he continued. “Of course, the President is going to be here on Monday to give his Memorial Day address, which he does every year. Every President has done that here at Arlington since President Ulysses S. Grant, in fact.”
“There’s just a whole myriad of things to see, monuments to see,” Warren said, adding:
The famous people that are buried here – but, just as important, the average soldier from the Civil War, from the two World Wars, Vietnam, Korea, and Afghanistan and Iraq today. You really get a feel, if you come out here, for the link between a soldier from the Civil War, and a soldier from today – how they all served honorably, they served their country, many of them paid the ultimate sacrifice, as Lincoln said, the “last full measure of devotion.”
“Read the headstones, feel what it is to be an American, and realize that there are still people, and there always have been, that are willing to sacrifice and make sure we keep our freedoms.”
Bannon advised visitors that Section 60 is the section of Arlington where most veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been laid to rest. Warren said over 1,200 casualties of Iraq and Afghanistan are interred at Arlington, and about 900 of them can be found in Section 60.
Those planning visits to Arlington National Cemetery for Memorial Day are advised to check the official website for a schedule of events and the security procedures necessary to attend them.
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