The Vault

An Inventory of Robert E. Lee’s Personal Property, Left in His Mansion and Seized by the Government

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Union soldiers occupied Arlington House, Robert E. Lee’s home in Virginia, soon after the beginning of the Civil War. This inventory was taken in 1863, for “U.S. v. all the Rights, Titles, of Robert E. Lee,” a suit brought against Lee for nonpayment of property taxes. The list shows the extent of furnishings left in the large house, even after Lee’s wife Mary Anna Randolph Custis had moved many of the more valuable items for safekeeping.


In his book Houses of Civil War America, Hugh Howard writes that the mansion served many purposes during the war: It was the headquarters for General George McClellan; its property held a hospital; and “in 1863, the southern portion of the estate became a freedman’s village for thousands of runaway slaves.” (The Custis-Lee family, Howard remarks, enslaved nearly 200 people.)


George Washington Parke Custis, who built Arlington House, was Martha Washington’s grandson (through a son from a previous marriage). When his father died during the Revolutionary War, George and Martha Washington adopted Custis, along with one of his sisters. In 1831, Custis’ daughter married Robert E. Lee.

Custis’ large painting of Washington, Battle of Monmouth, finished in 1840, wouldn’t have been in the house at the time of this inventory, as a relative had removed it at the beginning of the war. The “large painting” the inventory refers to must have been another on the same theme, showing how important the connection to Washington was to the Custis family.


The suit against Lee succeeded in 1864, and the house and contents went up for auction, ending up in government hands. The Union Army buried war dead on its grounds. In the 1880s, the Supreme Court ruled that the wartime confiscation had been illegal, and the Lees’ oldest son sold the house and grounds to the government for what he considered to be a fair price. Arlington National Cemetery now occupies much of the former Custis-Lee land. 

My transcript follows the document. 

National Archives. 


My transcript:

Inventory of Gen’l Lee’s personal property at Arlington House, August 29th 1863

11 Sofa bottom chairs

3 Arm red plush seat chairs

1 Brussels Carpet

3 Red blush seat sofas

7 large Paintings in Hall

1 Extention [sic] dining table

1 large Painting of Washington & his officers on the Battlefield

4 Book Cases

6 Cane bottom chairs

9 bedsteads

2 Wardrobes

4 Husk mattresses

4 Stands

1 Centre table

1 Common Nook Chair

2 Cane B Chairs

1 small Book case

2 Bureaus

1 pair hand irons

4 Ward Robes

2 Marble top N Stands

2 Side boards

1 Marble top centre table

2 Marble top stands

2 Hair mattresses

1 large Wardrobe

1 Moss [?] Mattress


2 Straw “

2 Fancy Candlesticks

2 Bureaus

1 Fancy glass case Clock

7 Paintings

9 Engravings

2 Piano Stools

1 Music Stand

1 shovel, tongs, & bellows

1 secretary

10 guilt [gilt] frames

1 large Map of Va

2 Guilt Window Heads

9 & 1 wash Stand

2 Dress bureaus & glasses

1 Carpet, +, 3 Boxes of Books

3 Stories

1 Marble top Wash Stand

1 large secretary

4 Stands

2 Tables

Update, December 12: Transcript updated after some kind readers wrote in with suggestions. I listed an item as “hand ??”; two readers thought the line read “hand irons.” And “common Book chair” (my interpretation) is, indeed, probably “common Nook chair.” Thanks very much for the help.