Gettysburg National Military Park | SOLDIERS’ NATIONAL CEMETERY

Soldiers' National Cemetery (aka Gettysburg National Cemetery)

Soldiers’ National Cemetery (aka Gettysburg National Cemetery)

GETTYSBURG BATTLEFIELD TOUR STOP 16
Soldiers’ National Cemetery

Soldier’s National Cemetery (aka Gettysburg National Cemetery) is located south of the downtown area of Gettysburg on Cemetery Hill. It is open daily from dawn to dusk. Entrances are on Taneytown Road (west) and Baltimore Pike (east). The main parking lot is across from the entrance on Taneytown Road. There is limited, metered street parking along Baltimore Pike.

After the Battle of Gettysburg, thousands of dead bodies were rotting in the summer sun and rain and being picked over by vultures and pigs, so needless to say, Gettysburg residents were eager to bury everyone as soon as possible. Those who were not claimed by relatives were buried on the battlefield in shallow graves. However, this did not solve the problem, for the graves were soon eroded by rain, and the corpses and bones were once again exposed to the elements. Prompted by the Gettysburg residents, the Pennsylvania governor, Andrew Curtain, formed a commission tasked with finding a more permanent solution. Funds were soon appropriated for the purchase of 17 acres on Cemetery Hill for a new national cemetery. The Gettysburg town cemetery, Evergreen, was already located on the hill, having been established in 1854.

Starting on October 27, 1863, and continuing for five months, Union soldiers buried on the battlefield were removed and reinterred at Soldiers’ National Cemetery. With a few exceptions, Confederate soldiers were not allowed to be buried in a national cemetery, so the bodies of approximately 3,500 Confederates remained buried on the battlefield until the 1870s when southern veterans groups reinterred them in southern cemeteries. (Exceptions allow Confederate POWs who died while in U. S. custody to be buried at national cemeteries, and Confederate soldiers who went on to serve in the U. S. military after the Civil War were eligible.)

The National Cemetery System was established in July 1862 during the Civil War, so the cemetery at Gettysburg was not the first. That distinction goes to Alexandria National Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia; Gettysburg was the 16th national cemetery. It was dedicated on November 19, 1863. The main speaker was Edward Everett, a politician and noted orator from Massachusetts. President Abraham Lincoln was also asked to speak, and it is here that he gave his famous Gettysburg Address, a two-minute speech. Everett spoke for two hours.

Buried at Soldiers’ National Cemetery are 3,512 Union soldiers who died during the Battle of Gettysburg, roughly a thousand of them unknown. The graves are arranged in a semi-circle around the Soldiers’ National Monument and are grouped by state. Names are engraved into stones that sit at ground level, not traditional tombstones.

Soldiers' National Monument at Soldiers' National Cemetery

Soldiers’ National Monument at Soldiers’ National Cemetery

Minnesota section of Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg

Minnesota section of Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg

Graves of known soldiers who died at the Battle of Gettysburg, Soldiers' National Cemetery

Graves of known soldiers who died at the Battle of Gettysburg, Soldiers’ National Cemetery

There are also three sections of unknown soldiers. These graves are marked with small stone blocks with numbers on them.

Unknown section of graves at Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg

Unknown section of graves at Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg

Graves of unknown soldiers killed at the Battle of Gettysburg, Soldiers' National Cemetery

Graves of unknown soldiers killed at the Battle of Gettysburg, Soldiers’ National Cemetery

However, not all unknown soldiers are buried in the Unknown sections. If the state of an unknown solider was known—most likely as a result of the body being found in a uniform with state regimental insignias on it—this man was buried in his state’s section.

Unknown soldiers buried in a state section of Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg

Unknown soldiers buried in a state section of Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg

Soldiers’ National Cemetery is not, however, strictly a Civil War cemetery. Between 1898 and 1968, it was expanded to include burial plots for veterans of the Spanish-American War all the way through the Vietnam War (spouses are also eligible). In 1968, a 17-acre annex located along Steinwehr Avenue was opened that could hold another 1,700 graves. Actual tombstones are used to mark post-Civil War graves, including those of Civil War veterans who died later. Most of these are found in the Annex.

Graves of World War I and II soldiers at Soldiers' National Cemetery

Graves of World War I and II soldiers at Soldiers’ National Cemetery

Grave of William E. Miller, Medal of Honor recipient for valor at the Battle of Gettysburg

Grave of William E. Miller, Medal of Honor recipient for valor at the Battle of Gettysburg

The entire cemetery (including the annex) was officially closed for new burials (except for spouses) in October 1972. The only veteran buried since was a Civil War soldier found during an excavation on Seminary Ridge in 1997. Overall, there are approximately 6,000 people buried at Soldiers’ National Cemetery.

In addition to the Soldiers’ National Monument, the New York State Memorial, the Lincoln Address Monument, a statue of Union Major General John Reynolds, and numerous regimental monuments are among those located on the grounds of Soldiers’ National Cemetery. A modern restroom is located near the New York State Memorial.

Lincoln Address Memorial at Soldiers' National Cemetery

Lincoln Address Memorial at Soldiers’ National Cemetery

General John F. Reynolds Memorial at Soldiers' National Cemetery

General John F. Reynolds Memorial at Soldiers’ National Cemetery

New York State Memorial at Soldiers' National Cemetery

New York State Memorial at Soldiers’ National Cemetery

The Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial is located in the Annex. This memorial depicts Union Captain Henry Bingham aiding mortally wounded Confederate General Lewis Armistead during the final moments of Pickett’s Charge. Armistead was friends with Union General Winfield Hancock, who was also wounded during the charge. Both men were Masons. Armistead is shown handing his personal belongings to Bingham so that they could be given to Hancock and eventually returned to his family. Neither man knew at the time that Hancock had also been wounded. Surrounding the sculpture is a wall of granite with the names of the states whose soldiers fought at Gettysburg.

Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial at the Soldiers' National Cemetery Annex in Gettysburg

Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery Annex in Gettysburg

General Lewis Armistead and Captain Henry Bingham sculpture on the Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial at Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg

General Lewis Armistead and Captain Henry Bingham sculpture on the Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial at Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg


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Last updated on October 29, 2022
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