Today in History, May 13, 1864:
Private William Christman of the 67th Pennsylvania Infantry, US Army, became the first soldier laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. He was laid to rest in the Lee’s rose garden near the Custis-Lee Mansion, or Arlington House.
Private Christman’s brother had preceded him in service to his country, leaving William to manage the family farm. William volunteered himself in part to help provide for his family. He became ill and died in a DC military hospital.
The mansion and the plantation it was on had belonged to George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of Martha Washington, step-grandson of President Washington. He willed the property to his daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis. She in turn married a young US Army Lieutenant and West Point graduate, Robert E. Lee.
Lee served in the Mexican-American War and was respected as one of the best officers in the US Army. In fact he was offered command of the forces around Washington at the outset of the Civil War. He turned this offer down and instead left the Custis-Lee Mansion to go further south into Virginia and command Confederate forces.
As the war progressed the mansion was used as a Union Headquarters. A camp to assist former slaves was set up on the property. And finally, faced with mounting casualties in the war, the Union assumed the property as a cemetery for Union war dead.
It was actually after Private Christman was interred that the property was designated the Arlington National Cemetery. Today American soldiers from every war fought by the United States are buried and memorialized at Arlington, including the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.