To schedule a burial: Fax all discharge documentation to the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 1-866-900-6417 and follow-up with a phone call to 1-800-535-1117.
The cemetery is located in Shelby County, Memphis, Tennessee, in the northeastern part of the city.
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Memphis originated as a campground of the Chickasaw nation. The first European explorer, Hernando De Soto, arrived in 1541 and claimed the territory for Spain. More than a century later, in 1682, the French would also claim the land on behalf of King Louis XIV. It was not until 1797 that the United States took possession of the territory and erected Fort Adams. In 1818, the Chickasaw signed a treaty granting much of what is West Tennessee to the United States. A year later, three Nashville speculators founded the city of Memphis: John Overton, James Winchester and Andrew Jackson, future president of the United States.
Once Memphis fell under Union control, it became a convenient location to care for the sick and wounded troops flooding in from surrounding areas. General hospitals capable of caring for thousands of men at a time were set up in and around the city. A board of officers who purchased 32 acres northeast of the city chose the cemetery site. It was originally known as Mississippi River National Cemetery. At the end of the war, burials included reinterments from camps and hospitals throughout the region.
Memphis has the second-largest group of unknowns interred in any national cemetery. The large quantity of unknowns may be attributed to the long interval between battlefield burial and reinterment at Memphis National Cemetery. Often, the crude wood markers that identified original burials had been removed or deteriorated to the point where they were no longer legible. As soldiers were not required to carry personal identification, it was often difficult to determine the identity of the remains.
Memphis National Cemetery is also the burial place of the victims of one of the nation's most tragic maritime disasters—the explosion of the USS Sultana. On April 23, 1865, after undergoing boiler repairs, the vessel had picked up a number of Union prisoners of war released from Andersonville prison in Georgia and Cahaba prison in Alabama. The captain, a part owner of the vessel, was paid $5 a head for enlisted men and $10 for officers, so he did not baulk when the steamer was overloaded with passengers. The USS Sultana was certified to carry 376 passengers, but it carried well over 2,000 soldiers anxious to return home.
The steamer left Vicksburg and reached Memphis on the evening of April 26, where the passengers heard the news of President Lincoln's assassination. From Memphis, the ship stopped at a coaling station on the Arkansas side of the river, bound for Cairo, Ill. About 2 a.m. a boiler exploded and the blast toppled the smokestack and cut the deck in two. Many men were killed instantly by the fire and steam, others began going over the side. Many of the wounded were put over the side to avoid the inferno, only to drown miles away. Only about 800 persons survived.
Monuments and Memorials
The granite Minnesota Monument was erected in 1916 by the state of Minnesota in memory of its soldiers who fought in the Civil War and were buried at the cemetery. John K. Daniels of St. Paul, Minn., is the sculptor. Daniels also did three other Minnesota monuments, found at Little Rock (1920), Nashville and Jefferson Barracks (1922) national cemeteries. Seven Minnesota monuments were commissioned in all for national cemeteries during the post-Civil War years. The others are located at the national cemeteries at Vicksburg, Miss. (1906-07); Shiloh, Tenn. (1908); and Marion, Ind. (1913).
The Illinois Monument is a granite-and-bronze sarcophagus commissioned by the state of Illinois. Dedicated in 1929, it depicts a soldier in repose.
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Medal of Honor Recipients
Private James H. Robinson, (Civil War) Company B, 3rd Michigan Cavalry. Brownsville, Ark., Jan. 27, 1865 (Section H, Grave 4131).
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Cemetery policies are conspicuously posted at the main entrance to the cemetery.
Floral arrangements accompanying the casket or urn at the time of burial will be placed on the completed grave. Natural cut flowers may be placed on graves at any time of the year.
Artificial flowers and potted plants will be permitted on graves during periods when their presence will not interfere with grounds maintenance. As a general rule, artificial flowers and potted plants will be allowed on graves for a period extending 10 days before through 10 days after Easter Sunday and Memorial Day.
During the lawn mowing and grounds maintenance season, all floral items will be removed from graves on the first and third Fridays of each month. All floral items will be removed when they become unsightly. Christmas wreaths, grave blankets and other seasonal adornments may be placed on graves from Dec. 1 through Jan. 20.
Permanent plantings, statues, vigil lights, breakable objects and similar items are not permitted on the graves. The Department of Veterans Affairs does not permit adornments that are considered offensive, inconsistent with the dignity of the cemetery or considered hazardous to cemetery personnel. For example, items incorporating beads or wires may become entangled in mowers or other equipment and cause injury.
Permanent items removed from graves will be placed in an inconspicuous holding area for one month prior to disposal. Decorative items removed from graves remain the property of the donor but are under the custodianship of the cemetery. If not retrieved by the donor, they are then governed by the rules for disposal of federal property.
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