“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.
Photographed 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.

A National Cemetery System Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Don Morfe, August 17, 2014
2. A National Cemetery System Marker
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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 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
Wilmington National Cemetery image. Click for full size.
Photographed 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.
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, 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,
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Indianapolis Ind., 1889.
Erected by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs-National Cemetery Administration.
Topics and series. This memorial is listed in this topic list: War, US Civil. In addition, it is included in the National Cemeteries series list.
Location. 34° 14.27′ N, 77° 55.367′ W. Marker is in Wilmington, North Carolina, in New Hanover County. Memorial can be reached from the intersection of Market Street (Business U.S. 17) and North 20th Street, on the left when traveling east. The marker is located on the grounds of the Wilmington National Cemetery. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 2011 Market Street, Wilmington NC 28405, United States of America. Touch for directions.
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 B. Gould (approx. 1.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Wilmington.
Also see . . .  U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. To learn more about benefits and programs
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for Veterans and families. (Submitted on September 18, 2014.) 
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. It was originally submitted on September 18, 2014, by Don Morfe of Baltimore, Maryland. This page has been viewed 408 times since then and 22 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on September 18, 2014, by Don Morfe of Baltimore, Maryland. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.

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Dec. 10, 2022