“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Wilmington in New Hanover County, North Carolina — The American South (South Atlantic)

A National Cemetery System

A National Cemetery System Marker image. Click for full size.
By Don Morfe, August 17, 2014
1. A National Cemetery System Marker
Civil War Dead

An estimated 700,000 Union and Confederate soldiers died in the Civil War between April 1861 an April 1865. As the death toll rose, the U.S. government struggled with the urgent but unplanned need to bury fallen Union troops. This propelled the creation of the national cemetery system.

On September 11, 1861, the War Department directed commanding officers to keep “accurate and permanent records of deceased soldiers.” It also required the U.S. Army Quartermaster General, the office responsible for administrating to the needs of troops in life and in death, to mark each grave with a headboard. A few months later, the department mandated interment of the dead in graves marked with numbered headboards, recorded in a register.

Creating National Cemeteries

The authority to create military burial grounds came in an Omnibus Act of July 17, 1862. It directed the president to purchase land to be used as “a national cemetery for the soldiers who shall die in the service of the country.” Fourteen national cemeteries were established by 1862.

When hostilities ended, a grim task began. In October 1865, Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs directed officers to survey lands in the Civil War theater to find Union dead and plan to reinter
A National Cemetery System Marker image. Click for full size.
By Don Morfe, August 17, 2014
2. A National Cemetery System Marker
them in new national cemeteries. Cemetery sites were chosen where troops were concentrated: camps, hospitals, battlefields, railroad hubs. By 1872, 74 national cemeteries and several soldiers’ lots contained 305,492 remains, about 45 percent were unknown.

Most cemeteries were less than 10 acres, and layouts varied. In the Act to Establish and to Protect National Cemeteries of February 22, 1867, Congress funded new permanent walls or fences, grave markers, and lodges for cemetery superintendents.

At first only soldiers and sailors who died during the Civil War were buried in national cemeteries. In 1873, eligibility was expanded to all honorably discharged Union veterans, and Congress appropriated $1 million to mark the graves. Upright marble headstones honor individuals whose names were known; 6-inch-square blocks mark unknowns. By 1873, military post cemeteries on the Western frontier joined the national cemetery system. The National Cemeteries Act of 1973 transferred 82 Army cemeteries, including 12 of the original 14, to what is now the National Cemetery Administration.

Reflection and Memorialization

The country reflected upon the Civil War’s human toll—2 percent of the U.S. population died. Memorials honoring war service were built in national cemeteries. Most were donated by regimental units,
Wilmington National Cemetery image. Click for full size.
By Don Morfe, August 17, 2014
3. Wilmington National Cemetery
From The Bivouac of the Dead by Theodore O’Hara. The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat. The soldier’s last tattoo. No more on life’s parade shall meet. That brave and fallen few, On Fame’s eternal camping-ground. Their silent tents are spread, And Glory guards, with solemn round, The bivouac of the dead.
state governments and veterans’ organization such as the Grand Army of the Republic. Decoration Day, later Memorial Day, was a popular patriotic spring event that started in 1868. Visitors placed flowers on graves and monuments, and gathered around rostrums to hear speeches. Construction of Civil War monuments peaked in the 1890s. By 1920, as the number of aging veterans was dwindling, more than 120 monuments had been placed in national cemeteries.

(lower left) Soldiers’ graves near General Hospital, City Point, Va., c.1863. Library of Congress.
(center) Knoxville was established after the siege of the city and Battle of Fort Sanders in 1863. Cemetery plan, 1892, National Archives and Records Administration.
(upper right) Lodge at City Point, Va., pre-1928. The first floor contained a cemetery office, and living room and kitchen for the superintendent’s family; three bedrooms were upstairs.
(lower right) National cemetery monuments, left to right: Massachusetts Monument, Winchester Va., 1907; Maryland Sons Monument, Loudon Park, Baltimore, Md., 1885; and Women’s Relief Corps/Grand Army of the Republic Monument to the Unknown Dead, Crown Hill, Indianapolis Ind., 1889.
Erected by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs-National Cemetery Administration.
Location. 34° 14.27′ N, 77° 55.367′ W. Marker is in Wilmington, North Carolina, in New Hanover County. Marker can be reached from the intersection of Market Street (Business U.S. 17) and North 20th Street, on the left when traveling east. Click for map. The marker is located on the grounds of the Wilmington National Cemetery. Marker is at or near this postal address: 2011 Market Street, Wilmington NC 28405, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 2 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. United States Colored Troops (within shouting distance of this marker); Oakdale Cemetery (approx. 0.4 miles away); Johnson Jones Hooper (approx. half a mile away); Wilmington College (approx. 0.6 miles away); John N. Maffitt (approx. one mile away); James F. Shober (approx. one mile away); St. Mark’s Episcopal Church (approx. 1.1 miles away); William G. Craig House (approx. 1.2 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Wilmington.
Also see . . .  U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. To learn more about benefits and programs for Veterans and families. (Submitted on September 18, 2014.) 
Categories. War, US Civil
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Don Morfe of Baltimore, Md 21234. This page has been viewed 193 times since then and 57 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on , by Don Morfe of Baltimore, Md 21234. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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