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On Hallowed Ground

Terri Schichenmeyer | 11/17/2010, 5 p.m.

He was somebody's baby once, and treasured.

His mother carried him nine months, anticipating the day she'd meet him; his father secretly hoped for a boy. His arrival was heralded, his childhood happy, his adolescence fleeting. He grew up to be a fine man, loved by family and friends, known for his valor and conviction.

And now his name is etched in stone, dead some eight decades, remembered only by an aging few. In the audiobook "On Hallowed Ground: The Story of Arlington National Cemetery" (c.2010, Brilliance Audio, $29.99 / $30.99 Canada, 11 CDs / 12 h 49m) written and read by Robert M. Poole, you'll learn about that soldier and the place of honor where he and others lie.

Robert E. Lee's home "had the appearance of a superior English country residence," said one British visitor to the mansion. But when Lee's wife inherited it from her deceased father, the gift was burdensome.

The plantation had become bedraggled in the last years of George Washington Parke Custis' life, but Lee was determined to restore it. With the labor of 63 slaves who lived on the grounds, he brought the mansion, gardens, and fields back to their former glory. But when Lee accepted command of Virginia's military, says Poole, "Arlington was lost."

Mary Anna Custis Lee didn't want to give up her family home, but when Civil War dead were buried in her gardens, she had little choice: the war literally surrounded her. Lee's husband, who listed each of their slaves by name, freed them all mid-War, but made it clear that those who stayed would be expected to work for future pay. A surprising number did, and moved to the edge of the plantation.

In June of 1864, a recommendation was made that the land surrounding Arlington Mansion be officially "appropriated as a national military cemetery."

Throughout its years, Arlington has several times come close to being full. Its tombstones have ranged from wood to metal to granite and cannons. Up until relatively recently, the location of interment depended on the color of a soldier's skin. Famous people lie in Arlington, as do the influential and everyman, several unknowns and knowns, and a few small slave children.

You know that row-upon-row image of marching white tombstones you get when someone mentions Arlington National Cemetery? You'll get that in your mind as you listen to "On Hallowed Ground," and so much more ...

Author Robert M. Poole reads his own work in this audiobook. His voice is warmly commanding, and that puts listeners straight into the action as Poole sets his scenes and describes historical action. It helps that exclusive interviews with cemetery workers, former soldiers, people who were a part of Arlington history, and descendants of Arlington slaves are included. Although it occasionally drags with detail, I was, overall, amazed and thrilled with this listening experience.

At nearly 13 hours (but just $2 more than the paper book), "On Hallowed Ground" is an audiobook that will last you a good while. Civil War buffs will eat it up, as will veterans and anyone who wants insight to this national treasure.