Shiloh National Military Park | SHILOH NATIONAL CEMETERY

Entrance to Shiloh National Cemetery

Entrance to Shiloh National Cemetery

Shiloh National Cemetery is located across the parking lot from the Shiloh National Military Park Visitor Center. It is open to foot traffic during park operating hours. A paved, .4-mile path leads through the grounds. For those interested in the Civil War-era graves, a cemetery map that shows grave locations by state can be found near the entrance. Plan to spend about a half hour to visit the site.

Shiloh National Cemetery

Shiloh National Cemetery

As was often the case in Civil War battles, most of the dead were quickly buried on the battlefield, usually in mass graves. 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 national cemetery being at Gettysburg. In fact, his Gettysburg Address speech was given at that cemetery’s dedication on November 19, 1863.

Graves of Ohio soldiers buried at Shiloh National Cemetery

Graves of Ohio soldiers buried at Shiloh National Cemetery

After the war there was a massive effort to find those who were buried on the battlefield and give them a proper burial. Union dead were eligible to be buried in one of the newly created National Cemeteries. The cemetery at Shiloh (originally called the Pittsburg Landing National Cemetery) opened in 1866 for the purpose of being the final resting place for those who died at Shiloh, as well as those who were killed anywhere along the Tennessee River. One hundred and fifty-six grave sites were found on the Shiloh battlefield, and 565 sites were found along the Tennessee River. Original burials numbered 3,584, of which 2,359 were unknown, most having been found in the mass graves.

Grave of an unknown soldier at Shiloh National Cemetery

Grave of an unknown soldier at Shiloh National Cemetery

Shiloh National Cemetery was closed in 1984 and now holds around 3,900 graves. Soldiers up through the Vietnam War are buried here. In addition, there is one memorial to a Persian Gulf War soldier whose body was never recovered. The few burials that occur today are those of widows of soldiers who were previously buried at the cemetery. These spouses are still eligible to be buried at Shiloh.

Private headstones replace government issued headstones at Shiloh National Cemetery

Private headstones replace government issued headstones at Shiloh National Cemetery

Grave of drummer boy Henry Burke, Shiloh National Cemetery

Grave of drummer boy Henry Burke, Shiloh National Cemetery

In addition to graves, Shiloh National Cemetery contains a number of monuments and other markers. Grant had his headquarters here, and the location is marked by a monument of cannons.

Grant's headquarters marker at Shiloh National Cemetery

Grant’s headquarters marker at Shiloh National Cemetery

With a few exceptions, Confederate troops were not allowed to be buried in the National Cemeteries. Since nearly all of the fighting had taken place in the south, many Confederates were buried in town cemeteries by the locals who lived by the battlefield, especially if the battle ended in Confederate victory. In the case of Union victories, Confederate dead not spoken for by family or friends ended up in mass graves, for the task of burying the dead fell upon the victor. The Union wasn’t about to spend much time on individual funerals for the enemy, especially given the fact that Union soldiers themselves were often buried in mass graves due to the urgency of moving on to the next battlefield or because of the heat that quickly spoiled the bodies. There are five known mass Confederate graves at Shiloh, all of which can be seen on the Shiloh Battlefield Tour. Another half dozen or so mass graves are reported to exist but have never been found.

Three Confederate soldiers are buried at Shiloh National Cemetery. Two died as prisoners of war. Regulations state that Confederate POWs were the responsibility of the Union in life and death. Since Confederate POWs were usually held in northern states, the National Cemeteries with the largest number of Confederate graves are located in the north. Very few Confederate graves are found in the southern National Cemeteries.

Confederate soldiers can also be buried at National Cemeteries if they subsequently served in the U. S. military after the Civil War, for they were considered U. S. soldiers at that point. Furthermore, in 1956 Congress changed the National Cemetery rules to allow Confederate burials. However, a body would have to be moved from its original grave to a National Cemetery, and thus very few such burials have taken place. I have no idea how the third Confederate soldier mentioned above ended up at Shiloh, but it may be for one of these two reasons.

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Last updated on February 3, 2022
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