Nearly 4,000 former slaves are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Soon after the Lee’s estate was seized by the federal government, an area was set aside acreage as a model community called Freedman’s Village for emancipated, freed and fugitive slaves. The village included farmland, homes, a hospital, a school and a mess hall. It was closed down in 1900 and residents who lived at the village were buried on the property, and their graves were incorporated into Section 27 of Arlington National Cemetery. Their headstones are inscribed with “citizen” or “civilian.”
A decade after Robert E. Lee’s death, the Supreme Court ruled that the U.S. government had seized his estate without due process and ordered it returned to his family in the same condition as when it was illegally confiscated. Instead Robert E. Lee’s son sold the property to the government. Had he not sold the property that is now the National Cemetery now, the US government would have been forced to exhume all of Arlington’s dead, some 17,000 graves and rebury them.
The first national Memorial Day (Then called Decoration day) commemoration in held at the cemetery in 1868 was hosted by General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic. General Ulysses S. Grant was in attendance and General James Garfield as the featured speaker.