Stones River National Battlefield | STONES RIVER NATIONAL CEMETERY

Stones River National Cemetery

Stones River National Cemetery

Stones River National Cemetery is located across the street from the Stones River National Battlefield Visitor Center. It is open daily from 8 AM to 5 PM. There is a short vehicle driveway that reaches the center of the cemetery, but all graves must be visited on foot. The cemetery is not that big, so plan to spend no more than 15-30 minutes to visit the site.

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.

The Stones River National Cemetery was created in 1865, though it took two years to find the roughly 1,600 Union soldiers who died at Stones River and the surrounding middle Tennessee area who now rest at the cemetery. The job of finding the bodies and reinterring them was largely done by Chaplin William Earnshaw, the cemetery’s first superintendent, and the 111th U. S. Colored Infantry.

Union graves at the Stones River National Cemetery

Union graves at the Stones River National Cemetery

Eligibility for burial at a National Cemetery soon expanded to include all U. S. military veterans and spouses. At Stones River National Cemetery there about 1,000 graves of soldiers who served from after the Civil War through the Vietnam War era. Of all the graves at the cemetery, 2,562 are unknown soldiers.

Graves those who served in wars up through Vietnam can be found at Stones River National Cemetery

Graves those who served in wars up through Vietnam can be found at Stones River 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.

Exceptions that allow Confederate burials at National Cemeteries include: 1) Confederate POWs, who were the responsibility of the Union in life and death, 2) Confederate soldiers who subsequently served in the U. S. military after the Civil War, for they are considered U. S. soldiers at that point, and 3) 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.

Today you can find the graves of 1,300 or so Confederate soldiers at Evergreen Cemetery located on Highland Avenue in Murfreesboro, which is just east of Fortress Rosecrans. These men were buried at another cemetery previously, not to mention on the battlefield the first time around.

In addition to graves, two monuments are at the cemetery. The U. S. Regulars Monument was erected in 1882 to honor the men of the Western Regular Brigade. Another monument honors the soldiers of the 43rd Wisconsin and 108th Ohio Infantry.

US Regulars Monument

U. S. Regulars Monument

Additional graves can be found at the Hazen Brigade Monument just down the street. You can drive to it or take a short hike along a trail that starts outside the cemetery wall on the back, right side near the railroad tracks. Men from Colonel William Hazen’s brigade are buried here. You will also find the graves of one black soldier who fought in the Civil War and his grandson, who served in World War 1.

Graves within the walls of the Hazen Brigade Monument

Graves within the walls of the Hazen Brigade Monument

Back to the Top


With a few exceptions, use of any photograph on the National Park Planner website requires a paid Royalty Free Editorial Use License or Commercial Use License. See the Photo Usage page for details.
Last updated on March 10, 2020
Share this article