Private Edward Gilkin, G.W.Custis And Arlington's Continuing Tapestry

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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
arlington house 1864.jpg

More like temple than home, Arlington House's façade is forgivably ostentatious. Forgivably because G.W. Custis's veritable monument to our nation's founding grew into these preposterous proportions by becoming a symbol of our ability to survive and those who gave their lives it do so. Considering those sacrifices, Arlington House may be a little puny.

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Pretty happy with this image, also pretty darn symbolic IMO. Our honored dead seem represented by an empty carriage - bringing each honored dead in state to where they belong. Home to Arlington.

When even government sites referring to Arlington House as Robert E Lee's mansion, it's a little tough getting beyond that slightly fractured History. That's a huge shame, Arlington's past being so inextricably woven in America's founding. To have Arlington's beginning and end so neatly sliced to form popular myth misses how profound it is to see those graves stretched across George Washington Custis's plantation. R.E. lived there, his home after wife Mary Randolph Custis inherited the property and that's awfully profound too.

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When Meigs discovered officers quartered in Arlington House were ordering men be buried in far-off fields to avoid being disturbed by noise, he evicted them and ordered burials in the garden. Enraged at Lee's decision Meigs wanted to ensure Arlington House would never be inhabited again. And so our National Cemetery was born. Still looking for information on enslaved who built the house- seems to fit awfully well with what it became too. A terrible story with a final element of light.

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Why profound and why so unfortunate we miss it? Because G. W. Custis built it as a memorial to his stepfather and really, his role in creating this nation. IMO he overdid the grandeur, coming close to the absurd, that heavy, imposing façade an unlikely fit in country meadows. I'm a little smitten by old G.W.. Filling the house with family treasures, opening the grounds to the public, enjoying his role as History's caretaker ( and hugely- he'd anonymously hang out at the waterfront park he created, watching families picnic and boat, giving children coins ), he also gave us the only real setting possible for a cemetery honoring this nation's sacrifices to continuing an experiment called democracy.

It's just so eerily fitting. Meigs may have begun soldier burials there as vicious retribution to a man whose decision in leaving the Union enraged him, he did this country an unwitting service. The place honoring the man considered our nation's founder, the an un-king committed to democracy not rule, perfectly symbolized our Union's journey inclusive of our only challenge to unity. That symbol of that threat lived there, R.E. Lee, just gives you chills.

I'm not familiar enough with our National Cemetery to know where exactly is the grave of Private Edward Gilkey, 17th Maine Infantry. One of huge family he was the son a farmer and by 1860 was a laborer on a neighboring farm. We'll never know more, his town of Franklin along Maine's northwestern corner had no newspaper and was so small the post war photo of its population in front of their grange hall shows us a mere handful of inhabitants. Heck, the family lacks notice by way of a family tree. The single offspring to wear a uniform was 23 year old Edward. He died July 7th 1864. Having survived the 17th Maine's frontline war inclusive of Gettysburg, he died at Campbell General Hospital in Washington DC. Disease.

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Graves stretching out of sight over what were Custis's fields give you chills. Numbers can make your eyes glaze over, images can bring home democracy's cost.

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Officers and ladies on the steps and porches of Arlington, who knows if any men caught by Russell's camera in 1864 may be buried here.

It's 710 miles from Franklin, Maine to D.C.. An awfully long way from home. Edward would be nearly anonymous in time were it not for this thought provoking photograph. It's of Arlington some time post war. LoC's amazing tifs singles out Edward- we have his story in this era of swift research.
arlington cem edward gilkey.jpg

2629. Private Edward Gilkin co.G, 17th Maine Infantry. His grave at Arlington seems the only evidence he was here on the planet but his service to our nation is honored here at Arlington, Virginia. G.W. Custis' awkward, Romanesque brain child came full circle.

back door.JPG
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1st Lieutenant
Mar 29, 2015
Melbourne Australia
In looking at the next to last photo I couldn't help but notice the grave #2759 contains the legs of William Smith and L. Heath, amputated on July 10, 1864. This is the only such notation I see in the photos; makes me wonder what's up?
Good catch! "Leg of" was added to the headstone later for Smith. Did they find the rest of him somewhere?
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