To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, NCA is proud to conduct special presentations at VA Headquarters and activities at its historic cemeteries. Programs recognize national cemetery origins as a consequence of the Civil War (1861-1865).
Timeline - NCA and the Civil War
View a historical timeline of the Civil War and National Cemeteries.
Medal of Honor History
Unlike today, early U.S. military practice did not include awards and medals. The Civil War changed this. Americans fighting on both sides led government officials to recognize this bravery. President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill creating 200 “medals of honor” in late 1861. From this came the Medal of Honor, today the highest commendation for military service. The medal design, eligibility for it, and recognition on a recipients’ grave marker have all evolved since the Civil War. Today, 373 Medal of Honor recipients are interred in VA cemeteries. Learn more about these honored dead and the commemoration.
Civil War 150th Commemorative Series
Starting in fall 2012, with plans to continue through mid-2015, NCA is marking the sesquicentennial with occasional commemorative programs. These educational lectures and programs share with VA employees and guests new scholarship on themes relevant to the oldest national cemeteries, and projects demonstrating NCA’s stewardship of associated historic resources. Program topics relate to the agency’s origin with the Civil War, and touch on the diverse cultural and military service represented across the burial system. See a list of past programs.
Roll of Honor: Accounting for Union Dead
Over six years (1865-70), the U.S. Army Quartermaster General issued 27 volumes of the Roll of Honor, listing the names of more than 300,000 Union soldiers buried in national and other cemeteries. An 1871 inspection report stated that national cemeteries at Corinth, Memphis, and Nashville contained thousands of unknowns: 3,762, 8,819, and 4,001, respectively. These unknown graves were originally marked with 6x6 square blocks with a grave number cut into the top surface. A large number of Union dead were also interred in trench graves at Salisbury National Cemetery, the former Salisbury Prison cemetery. Because it was not possible to identify individual burials here, the federal government erected a large obelisk monument near the trenches to honor the dead. However, the government did identify the names of soldiers who were likely buried in these four cemeteries. Click on the links below for searchable versions of the burials in these cemeteries, transcribed from Roll of Honor:
Roll of Honor, 1869, No. XX (20), Corinth (Mississippi) National Cemetery (Under Development)
Roll of Honor, 1869, No. XXI (21), Memphis (Tennessee) National Cemetery (Under Development)
Roll of Honor, 1869, No. XXII (22), Nashville (Tennessee) National Cemetery (Under Development)
Roll of Honor, 1868, No. XIV (14), Salisbury (North Carolina) National Cemetery
Confederates in the Cemeteries: A Century of Federal Stewardship
Although the federal government established national cemeteries to provide permanent burial space for Union soldiers who died during the war, it was responsible for burial sites that contained the remains of thousands of Confederate dead. Beginning in 2008, NCA initiated a cultural resource study to learn more about 18 of these properties: nine Confederate cemeteries and nine national cemeteries containing the largest number of Confederate interments. Most are associated with Union prisoner-of-war (POW) camps in the North. This study is slated to be published in early 2015 and it will be available online.
By 2012, NCA completely digitized its original burial system: hand-written ledgers from the 1860s to 1960s. Through a partnership with Ancestry.com, NCA's ledgers — along with others in the National Archives & Records Administration (NARA) collection — are available to Ancestry.com subscribers and free to visitors to NARA facilities.
Note to History and Genealogy researchers: The NCA Historian Program staff is unable to undertake primary research for the public about veterans who may or may not be interred in NCA cemeteries due to the volume of these requests. Researchers should contact the National Archives & Records Administration or other offices recommended in the FAQs.
Since 2008, NCA has engaged in partnerships with the National Park Service (NPS) to help preserve some of the oldest and most significant cemetery buildings; the first permanent superintendent lodges.
The 32nd Indiana Infantry Monument, carved 1862, was moved to Cave Hill National Cemetery in Louisville, KY, in 1867. It is the country's oldest surviving Civil War memorial. However, its condition was deteriorating. Over several years, NCA conserved this monument, now displayed at the Frazier History Museum, and produced a successor that was dedicated at the cemetery in December 2011.
February 2009 marked the bicentennial of President Lincoln’s birth. In 1909, to celebrate the centennial of this event, the U.S. Army placed his Gettysburg Address, cast in iron, in all national cemeteries. Over the years some tablets were removed, and the number of national cemeteries increased. This project assures that all national cemeteries contain this symbolic artifact of NCA’s origin. Learn more about the acquisition of these tablets.
An overview on the establishment of National Cemeteries.
Dates of the Cemeteries
A listing of VA National Cemeteries and their dates established and first burial.
Leadership: Former Directors and Under Secretaries for Memorial Affairs, 1973-2014
Learn about the leaders who helped shape NCA.
Landscapes of Honor & Sacrifice: The History of the National Cemeteries, 2003
A 30-minute video illustrating the rich history of the national cemeteries.
"Memorial Day Order"
Annual recognition originally called Decoration Day, by GAR Commander-in-Chief John A. Logan in 1868.
Articles by Edward Steere that appeared in The Quartermaster Review, in 1953-1954:
Early Growth of the National Cemetery System
Evolution of the National Cemetery System 1865-1880
Expansion of the National Cemetery System 1880 – 1900
National Cemeteries and Memorials in Global Conflict
American Military Cemeteries: A Comprehensive Illustrated Guide to the Hallowed Grounds of the United States, including Cemeteries Overseas, by Dean W. Holt (McFarland & Co., Jefferson, North Carolina) 2010, Second Edition.
NCA Memorial Inventory, August 2013 (Alphabetical by Cemetery Name)
Inventory of NCA Memorials by Cemetery.
Cleaning and Caring for Government Headstones and Markers
The National Park Service's National Center for Preservation Technology & Training completed a study in 2011 to evaluate general cleaning needs of marble government-issued headstones.
History of Government-Furnished Headstones and Markers
The evolution of government headstones.
Plan of National Cemetery Lodges Designed by General Montgomery Meigs
Montgomery C. Meigs developed a prototype for superintendents’ lodges at national cemeteries in 1870.
"Bivouac of the Dead"
The elegiac verse by Mexican War veteran and poet Theodore O'Hare and its presence in national cemeteries
NCA and the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and Designated National Historic Landmarks
Many of the oldest national cemeteries and soldiers lots managed by NCA are recognized as historically significant and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and/or designated as a National Historic Landmarks (NHL).
National Register Eligibility of National Cemeteries - A Clarification of Policy
This 2011 guidance outlines how the National Park Service determined that all national cemeteries are eligible for the NRHP regardless of age.
A program of the National Park Service, this series consists of travel guides to historic destinations around the country, all listed on the National Register of Historic Places. VA's oldest properties are the subject of two itineraries:
Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) Lesson Plans is a component of the National Register of Historic Places, which helps develop guidance on using historic places to teach and encourages educators, historians, preservationists and others to work together effectively. Three NCA properties are the subject of TwHP lesson plans:
"A Nation Repays Its Debt: The National Soldiers' Home and Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio" (Dayton National Cemetery)
"Not to Be Forgotten: Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery"
Comfortable Camps?" Archeology of the Confederate Guard Camp at the Florence Stockade (This lesson was developed as part of mitigation associated with NCA's expansion of Florence National Cemetery.)
NOTE: Page may contain links that will take you away from the Department of Veterans Affairs website.