Antietam National Battlefield | ANTIETAM NATIONAL CEMETERY

Union graves at Antietam National Cemetery

Union graves at Antietam National Cemetery

ANTIETAM NATIONAL BATTLEFIELD TOUR

STOP 10:  ANTIETAM NATIONAL CEMETERY

Allow 30 minutes for a visit

Realizing that the inability to provide dignified burials for Union soldiers was a problem, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill on July 17, 1862, that established a National Cemetery system, with the first one being Alexandria National Cemetery in Virginia. There are now 155 such cemeteries, and 14 of these, including Antietam National Cemetery, are now under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Of these 14, only Andersonville National Cemetery is still open for burials. All others are full and now closed to future burials other than spouses of veterans already buried and veterans who were preassigned a spot. Antietam National Cemetery closed in 1953, so the last soldiers buried here who actually died in battle are from the Korean War.

Graves of Union Soldiers at Antietam National Battlefield

Graves of Union Soldiers at Antietam National Battlefield

As was the case on all battlefields during the Civil War, unless claimed by relatives or local residents—which was rare for Union soldiers since most of the fighting took place in the South—the dead at Sharpsburg were hastily buried on the battlefield, either where they were found or in a nearby mass grave. Since the battlefields were often farms and other private properties, civilians who fled during the fighting often came home to find they now lived on an unofficial cemetery. Such burials led to unsanitary conditions, and since the dead were usually buried in shallow graves, it was not uncommon for the bodies to be dug up and eaten by animals or for bones to eventually resurface.

Antietam National Cemetery actually started out as a state-owned cemetery established by Maryland in March 1865 for those who died at Antietam, South Mountain, Monocacy, and other battlefields within a 120 mile radius of Sharpsburg. However, the search for bodies did not begin until October 1866, which meant that bodies were buried on private property in Sharpsburg for over four years. Local farmers reported having trouble plowing their fields for years after the battle because they kept unearthing dead bodies.

The search for bodies lasted nearly an entire year, and when completed, 4,776 Union and 2,800 Confederate dead had been found. Only 38 percent of the Union soldiers are unknown while over 60 percent of the Confederates are unidentified, mainly because they were buried in mass graves by Union soldiers who didn’t care who they were.

The cemetery was originally supposed to be for the men of both sides, but the Southern states never came up with any money as promised, plus Northerners were pretty mad about the war, so only Union soldiers were buried. The Confederates were buried in other cemeteries in Maryland and West Virginia.

The official dedication date of Antietam National Cemetery is September 17, 1867, the fifth anniversary of the Battle of Antietam. In 1877 it was transferred to the United States War Department for inclusion in the National Cemetery system. It became part of the National Park system in 1933.

Antietam National Cemetery is somewhat unique in that nearly all the graves are from the Civil War era. Only 280 veterans from other wars are buried here. The most recent burial was of sailor Patrick Howard Roy who died in the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in 2000, despite the cemetery being closed to new burials. This was an exception to the rule only because he was a resident of nearby Keedysville.

Grave of World War I veteran Luther Stunkle at Antietam National Cemetery

Grave of World War I veteran Luther Stunkle at Antietam National Cemetery

Unlike a private cemetery with ornate tombstones, a military cemetery is full of plain, government issued markers. Tombstones with names but no dates are of men who died during the Civil War and who were among those originally buried at the cemetery. Graves of Civil War veterans with birth and death dates are of those who died of other causes after the war. Tombstones with names on both sides are for a husband and relative, typically a wife.

Grave of a Union soldier at Antietam National Cemetery

Grave of a Union soldier at Antietam National Cemetery

Small, square stones with a number on top mark unknown graves.

Graves of unknown soldiers at Antietam National Cemetery

Graves of unknown soldiers at Antietam National Cemetery

The building at the entrance of Antietam National Cemetery was constructed in 1867 and was originally the home of the cemetery superintendent.

Original home of Antietam National Cemetery's superintendent

Original home of Antietam National Cemetery’s superintendent

The large monument in the center of the cemetery is called the Private Soldier Monument. It was originally on display at the entrance of the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Afterwards it was disassembled and placed here in Sharpsburg. The official dedication date was September 17, 1880.

Private Soldier Monument at Antietam National Cemetery

Private Soldier Monument at Antietam National Cemetery


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Last updated on May 21, 2023
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