Author: Kenneth M. McFarland

the director of education at Stratford Hall, the birthplace of Robert E. Lee, in Stratford, Virginia

James River during the Civil War

The James River begins where the Cowpasture and Jackson rivers join in the western part of Virginia. It flows approximately 340 miles, passing over the falls at Richmond, and on to Hampton Roads. The James ranks near the Mississippi River in its significance during the American Civil War (1861–1865) and in importance to the Confederacy. Using the James River and Kanawha Canal system, boats moved materials such as pig iron and coal from Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and Piedmont regions to the capital. After the loss of Norfolk, Richmond became the state’s major port, naval base, and shipbuilding facility. South and east of Richmond the James saw significant combat, including actions between the Confederate and Union navies. In addition, the river aided large-scale movement of Union troops and military supplies.


Arlington House

Arlington House, also known as the Lee-Custis Mansion, overlooks Washington, D.C., from a rise across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia. Constructed between 1802 and 1818, it was one of the earliest and boldest expressions of the Greek Revival architectural style in America. Arlington House claims special historical significance through its association with the Washington and Custis families, and particularly with Robert E. Lee. After his family’s departure in 1861 at the start of the American Civil War (1861–1865), Arlington House became a Union army facility. In 1863 the United States government established a Freedmen’s Village on the property that was intended to serve as a model community for African Americans freed by the 1862 abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia and the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Its location, meanwhile, was a striking reminder that Arlington had once been an enslaved labor–based plantation. In 1864 the federal government officially appropriated the grounds and there established Arlington National Cemetery, which continues to serve as a final resting place for members of the United States armed forces.