[Review] On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery by Robert M. Poole

Publisher and Publication Date: Walker Books. 2009.
Genre: Nonfiction. American history. American military history.
Pages: 368.
Format: Hardcover.
Source: Public library.
Audience: Readers of American history and American wars since the Civil War.
Rating: Excellent.

19 black and white photographs.

A two-page spread of a map of the cemetery.

Link for the book @ Amazon.


Robert Poole begins On Hallowed Ground with describing a typical day at the cemetery in 2005. Funeral work is from early morning until evening. There are visitors to a particular grave or visitors to tour the grounds. Background noise from the freeway and airport is heard.

The Prologue holds one of the most memorable lines I’ve read. “It was a beautiful day for a funeral. The last of the season’s cherry blossoms drifted on a cool breeze, which carried the scent of cut grass and wet stone over Arlington National Cemetery.” Page 1.

The first soldiers were buried here in May of 1864. Within a month, the cemetery was established as a resting place for the American military veterans who die.

The grounds of the cemetery were created on the site of Robert E. Lee’s plantation and home. Mrs. Lee’s previous garden area is where the Civil War officers are buried. The plantation and home were actually apart of 3 properties that were given to Mrs. Lee after the death of her father. The home is still standing at the cemetery. Civil War veterans are buried around it.

On Hallowed Ground begins with the days leading up to the Civil War and concludes with the military history and of those being buried in 2005 (those who died during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.)

My Thoughts:

This is an outstanding book. I cannot speak highly enough. It is not merely a book about the history of Arlington National Cemetery itself but is a broad look at the history of American wars from the Civil War through to 2005. It shares interesting stories I’d not heard before. For example, former President John F. Kennedy visited and toured the former Lee home in early 1963. He made a remark that became true at his death. It shares American ideology throughout the generations in regard to wars and in regard to the culture and society in those times. It shares how the Civil War has been viewed through the generations. It shares how America honors its war dead.

On Hallowed Ground is not a historical book that shares information only. It is an emotional, meaningful, respectful, honorable, and memorable story of American veterans.

This book is not a book of political slant. I fell it is honoring and respectful.

Further Thoughts:

  1. I’d not read until now, about Robert E. Lee and his family. I learned how he viewed and treated slaves. I learned how he wrestled with what to do about his role in the days before the war began. I learned how his wife did not have a clue about what had happened to their previous home and property after she left until shortly before her death. I learned how their son persevered to have closure on the previously owned property. I did not know before reading this book Mrs. Lee was related to George Washington.
  2. When the cemetery began it covered 200 acres. In 2005, the cemetery covered 624 acres with room to bury the war dead until 2060.
  3. Decoration Day began in 1868 with the former Confederate soldiers not allowed to attend. It became a national holiday, known as Memorial Day in 1888.
  4. I love how so much information is given in the book, yet it does not feel rushed to tell its story. The book has a good reading pace.
  5. I’ve not read a book about former President Wilson until reading a bit of information in this book in regard to World War I.
  6. The distinct and honorable role of Tomb Guards at the Tomb of the Unknowns is an important chapter for me. Before, I’d not know what their various duties were.
  7. There are several personal and moving stories from those who were eyewitnesses of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, those who have loved ones buried at Arlington, and those whom it took many years to be identified for burial.
  8. Two of the most emotional stories is the mother and father who take their lawn chairs and sit beside the grave of their son who died in Iraq. They talk to him as if he is able to respond. They want to be near their beloved son. Another story is a soldier who was on the casket team at JFK’s burial, he has a follow-up story.

This book is personal for me. My grandfather served in World War I in France. My father served in Europe during WWII. He was in the Army. Dad was a D-Day Veteran and a Battle of the Bulge Veteran. He also served stateside during the Korean War in the Air Force. My brothers were in the Navy. Bobby is considered a Vietnam Veteran. My nephew served in the Navy during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. My son served in the Army. He was deployed to Iraq twice. And my paternal grandmother’s grandfather served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. He enlisted in Mississippi. There have been a few stories passed down from him.


One thought on “[Review] On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery by Robert M. Poole

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