Today in History

Today in History: May 13

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery
Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia,
Theodor Horydczak, photographer, circa 1920-1950.
Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959

On May 13, 1864, a Confederate prisoner of war was buried on the grounds of Arlington House, now >Arlington National Cemetery (external link). The prisoner, who had died at a local hospital, was the first soldier buried at the cemetery, located on the Potomac River opposite Washington, D.C. It now contains the graves of soldiers from every war in which the United States has participated, including the American Revolution.

Arlington House was built in 1802 by George Washington Parke Custis, adopted son of George Washington. In 1831, Custis' daughter, Mary Anna, married Lieutenant Robert E. Lee in the main hall of the mansion. The couple resided there until 1861, when Lee took command of Confederate troops in the Civil War. After Lee's departure, the Union Army transformed Arlington House, also called the Custis-Lee Mansion, into a military headquarters and the grounds into a camp. In 1864, the estate was declared a military cemetery by order of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

Group at Arlington House
Brigadier General Gustavus A. DeRussey (third from left) and staff on portico of Arlington House, Arlington, Virginia, May 1864.
Selected Civil War Photographs

Lee's eldest son, George Washington Custis Lee, challenged the government's assumption of the property for years, eventually securing $150,000 in compensation. In 1925, the U.S. War Department began restoring Arlington House to its pre-War condition. Today, it is maintained by the National Park Service as a memorial to Robert E. Lee.

As of 2006, more than 320,000 people are buried at Lee's former estate. Each year, Memorial Day is honored at Arlington National Cemetery by the placing of a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which houses the remains of three unknown servicemen from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. Other memorials at the cemetery include the mast of the U.S.S. Maine, a monument to Robert Peary, and the graves of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Missouri Gold Star Mothers
Missouri Gold Star Mothers with General John J. Pershing at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,
Arlington National Cemetery, September 21, 1930.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

To see more photographs of Arlington National Cemetery, search on Arlington National Cemetery in the following collections:

To retrieve over forty images of Arlington House, search on Custis Lee in Washington as It Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959.

Also, be sure to see the Today in History features on these American landmarks:

The Early Conservation Movement

Roosevelt and Pinchot
President Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, Standing on Deck of Steamer Mississippi, 1907.
The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920

One distinguishing characteristic of really civilized men is foresight…if we do not exercise that foresight, dark will be the future!

"Conservation as National Duty,"
President Theodore Roosevelt's Opening Address in Proceedings of a Conference of Governors, 1909.
The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920

On May 13, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt delivered the opening address, "Conservation as a National Duty," at the outset of a three-day meeting billed as the Governors' Conference on the Conservation of Natural Resources. He explained to the attendees that "the occasion for the meeting lies in the fact that the natural resources of our country are in danger of exhaustion if we permit the old wasteful methods of exploiting them longer to continue." The conference propelled conservation issues into the forefront of public consciousness and stimulated a large number of private and state-level conservation initiatives.

The gathering of the nation's governors was spearheaded by Chief Forester of the United States Gifford Pinchot, with the assistance of Secretary of the Inland Waterways Commission William John "WJ" McGee. No individual was so completely and prominently identified with the American conservation movement in this era as Gifford Pinchot, who made it his mission to establish the permanently sustainable use of the nation's natural resources on a foundation of rational and integrated public ownership and management.

Born in 1865, Pinchot was inspired at a young age by his father's suggestion that he should dedicate his life to the profession of forestry, then all but unknown in the United States. Pinchot graduated from Yale and went to France and Germany to pursue his education as a forester. When he returned to the United States, another notable conservationist and friend of his father, Frederick Law Olmsted, encouraged him to work in North Carolina managing the forest at George W. Vanderbilt's Biltmore estate near Asheville. In 1898, he became chief of the Division of Forestry in the Department of Agriculture, and in 1905 he succeeded in having the recently created forest reserves (later renamed national forests) transferred from the Department of the Interior to his own under what is now the Forest Service.

At the turn of the century, the nation's newly created Forest Reserves were in the Department of the Interior. The General Land Office—at that time soaked with fraud and incompetence—had responsibility for administering them. Meanwhile, what few foresters existed worked in the Division of Forestry, located in the Department of Agriculture. When Gifford Pinchot took over the tiny Division of eleven people in 1898, he resolved to bring forests and foresters together into what many then considered the more efficient and ethical Department of Agriculture.

The U.S.D.A. Forest Service,
Pinchot Institute for Conservation (external link)

Monarchs of the Forest
Monarchs of the Forest., Washington State, copyright 1910.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

Pinchot became a good friend and advisor of President Roosevelt, who shared his views on conservation. He served on several of Roosevelt's commissions, and together they organized the Governors' Conference on the Conservation of Natural Resources. This conference was a seminal event in the history of conservationism; it brought the issue to public attention in a highly visible way. The next year saw two outgrowths of the conference: the National Conservation Commission, which Roosevelt and Pinchot set up with representatives from the states and federal agencies, and the First National Conservation Congress, which Pinchot led as an assembly of private conservation interests.

The practical approach to conservation as the sustainable husbanding of natural resources espoused by Pinchot and Roosevelt became a permanent element of national policy under their leadership and has decisively shaped the nation's management of its environmental inheritance ever since.

For more information on the early conservation movement, the work of Pinchot, and other conservationists: