Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
The Arlington Woodlands
Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial
Marquis de Lafayette, 1825.
William Howard Russell, a famous 19th century English correspondent, once described the forest before you as "some of the finest woods I have seen in America." Two centuries earlier the area had been a vast wilderness where Doeg and Necostin Indians had hunted and made stone tools. Today this small woodland has been recognized by the Virginia Native Plant Society as one of the best examples of old growth terraced gravel forest remaining in Virginia.
In 1802, this land was settled by George Washington Park Custis. He named his 1,100-acre estate Arlington. One of the most striking natural features of his property was the 600-acre virgin oak forest that nearly surrounded Arlington House. The 19th century historian Benson Lossing described the picturesque landscape: "Behind the mansion is a dark old forest, with patriarchal trees bearing many centennial honors and covering 600 acres of hill and dale."
Mrs. Calvert, a relative of the Custises, had visited Arlington as a child and remembered the ravine before you as a mysterious dell where the children played, saying, "We longed to get beyond these woods, but Fear played nurse to us and enforced the command that we shall not go beyond the dell. It grew deeper and deeper until we seemed lost to the outside
Despite constant debts, Custis adamantly refused to use the woods for commercial purposes. Instead, he chose to keep it as a "park" in the English tradition. "Cherish these forest trees around your mansion," the Marquis De Lafayette cautioned Mrs. Custis in 1825. "Recollect how much easier it is to cut a tree than to make one grow." An avid hunter, Custis often led parties into the woods in search of game. His slaves also hunted and gathered food from the forest.
The slaves at Arlington may have known these woods best. Archaeological evidence reveals that they disposed of household trash and ashes from the house's furnace in the ravine. An icehouse was also located there. Each winter, the slaves would have filled it with large blocks of ice cut from frozen sections of the Potomac River.
The coming of the Civil War would change this idyllic setting for all time. Thousands of Union soldiers occupied Arlington during the war. They cut down much of the forest to build roads and fortifications, to provide firewood and to clear fields of vision and fire for their guns. Even in the midst of war, the soldiers made a conscious effort to save some of the largest, oldest trees around the mansion, including some of the trees here. In June 1864, Arlington Cemetery
Edward Dicey, a young cannoneer, described the wartime devastation of Arlington to his mother: "There is nothing to keep up one's spirits... It has been a splendid place, but everything has been destroyed, the magnificent forest has been cut down..."
Erected by National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.
Location. 38° 52.859′ N, 77° 4.398′ W. Marker is in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, in Arlington County. Marker is on Sherman Drive, on the right when traveling south. Touch for map. Marker is within the National Cemetery, in Section 29, off Sherman Drive and at the southeast corner of the wooded area. Marker is in this post office area: Fort Myer VA 22211, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Guardian of a Nation's Heritage (within shouting distance of this marker); The Kingdom of My Childhood (within shouting distance of this marker); The Flower Garden (within shouting distance of this marker but has been reported missing); Garden to Graves (within shouting distance of this marker); Civil War Unknowns Monument (within shouting distance of this marker); Arlington House, 1864 (within shouting distance of this marker but has been reported missing); Dependence on Slave Labor (within shouting distance of this marker); Kitchen Garden (within shouting distance of this marker but has been reported missing). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Arlington National Cemetery.
More about this marker. Several illustrations on the marker add to the information in the text. In the upper center is a 1843 Sketch of Arlington House by Markie Williams. Below it is a Civil War era newspaper illustration showing Cutting down the woods at Arlington Heights. Thousands of trees were cut down by the Union soldiers during the Civil War.
On the right are photographs showing:
Arlington House barns and Soldiers Barracks surrounded by the Arlington Woodlands, June 29, 1864. The structure in the center is the "Old Administration Building", located 100 yards to your left.
Trees at the rear of Arlington House and south slave quarters, June 28, 1864.
The forest before you is the last undeveloped part of the original 600-acre Arlington woodlands. The tree cross section is from a White Oak tree (Quercus alba) that fell March 22, 2002. The tree was approximately 230 years old and was over three inches in diameter when George Washington Parke Custis started building Arlington House in 1802.
Also see . . .
1. George Washington Parke Custis. National Park Service biography of Custis. (Submitted on September 27, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.)
2. Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial. National Park Service (Submitted on December 10, 2013.)
Categories. • Environment • Horticulture & Forestry • Native Americans • War, US Civil •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on September 25, 2008, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. This page has been viewed 1,623 times since then and 147 times this year. Photos: 1. submitted on September 25, 2008, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. 2, 3. submitted on March 15, 2016, by J. Makali Bruton of Querétaro, Mexico. • Craig Swain was the editor who published this page.