National Cemeteries – Snapshots of America


National Cemeteries – Is Your Ancestor Buried in One?

Probably because my dad is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, I’ve always had an interest in National Cemeteries. Since I didn’t know when they come into existence or even why, I decided to delve into their history.

According to Wikipedia:

The authority to create military burial places came during the American Civil War, in an act passed by the U.S. Congress on July 17, 1862. By the end of 1862, 14 national cemeteries had been established (see text of photo). A national cemetery is generally a military cemetery containing the graves of U.S. military personnel, veterans and their spouses, but not exclusively so. The best known national cemetery is Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington County, Virginia, outside Washington, D.C.. Some national cemeteries, especially Arlington, contain the graves of important civilian leaders and other important national figures. Some national cemeteries also contain sections for Confederate soldiers. In addition to national cemeteries, there are also state veteran cemeteries.

So it appears that they weren’t in existence until the Civil War. And, there are now 147 designated National Cemeteries in the United States. Here are a few of the ones I’ve visited.

Battleground National Cemetery

I think the smallest National Cemetery I’ve seen is called Battleground and is located in a residential neighborhood of Washington, D.C. There are only 41 burials there, men who died during the Battle of Fort Stevens when Washington, D.C., came under attack by General Early.

My first visit to Battleground was a disappointment as the cemetery was poorly upkept. I wrote a letter to the Park Service, asking them to do something about the state of disrepair that the cemetery had fallen into. I doubt that my letter made a difference, but the next time I was in D.C., the cemetery was in far better condition, with graves well-kept. At that time, markers had been placed at each grave (see my photo) but they have since been removed.

Custer National Cemetery

Although there are 7th Cavalry burials on the Little Big Horn Battlefield itself, the Custer National Cemetery is close to the visitor’s, close to the superintendent’s quarters. This cemetery was officially designated as a National Cemetery in 1879, although burials at the location had taken place prior to that date.

On one of my visits to the battlefield, I searched out the gravestones of the men who had died at the Fetterman Massacre of 1866, and who were reinterred at the Custer National Cemetery. One in particular, Adolph Metzger, sent me off on a genealogical research project, but that’s a story for another time.

By the way, not all of the soldiers who died at the Little Bighorn are buried there. Custer, himself, was reburied at West Point, while four of his men (including his brother) are buried at the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery in Kansas.

Fort Rosecrans and Miramar National Cemeteries

Fort Rosecrans is located in San Diego, with half of the cemetery overlooking the city and the bay, while the other half overlooks the Pacific Ocean. My dad is buried on the ocean side. This cemetery is now closed to new interments. The only burials allowed are for veterans and eligible family members in an existing gravesite. A second national cemetery, Miramar, was opened here in 2010. The new cemetery is located on over 300 acres and near the entrance stands a striking bronze sculpture dedicated to POWs and MIAs.

Daily, jets from nearby Miramar Marine Base fly past the new cemetery. Because of it’s location, the feeling here is far different from the silence of Rosecrans. That’s probably why I like it best.

Need to Find an Ancestor Buried at a National Cemetery?

You’re in luck. The National Cemetery Administration has a Nationwide Gravesite Locator.  The database is updated daily and you can search it by a number of variables, including

  • name
  • location
  • date of birth
  • date of death
  • name of cemetery

Click here to search for your military ancestor.


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