Jefferson Barracks, one of the National Cemetery Administrations oldest interment sites, has served as a burial place soldiers from all wars. The original military post was built south of St. Louis, Mo., on the banks of the Mississippi River to replace Fort Bellefontaine. Selected for its strategic geographic location, the post was opened in 1826. Jefferson Barracks became the army’s first permanent base west of the Mississippi River. By the 1840s, it was the largest military establishment in the United States. During the Civil War, Jefferson Barracks served as a training post for the Union Army. There was also a hospital at the post for the Union army’s sick and wounded.
Although Jefferson Barracks was formally established as a national cemetery in 1866 by passage of a join resolution, the first burial, at what is now Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery is believed to have occurred the year after the post’s founding, on Aug. 5, 1827. On that date, Elizabeth Ann Lash, the infant daughter of an officer stationed at Jefferson Barracks was interred at the post cemetery. The Civil War initiated the beginnings of a formal network of military cemeteries. The first general U.S. cemetery legislation was an omnibus bill enacted July 17, 1862, authorizing President Lincoln "to purchase cemetery grounds, and cause them to be securely enclosed, to be used as a national cemetery for the soldiers who shall have died in the service of the country." By the end of the year, the first 14 national cemeteries were created. Jefferson Barracks was formally established as a national cemetery in 1866 by passage of a joint resolution authorizing the Secretary of War to take action to preserve graves from desecration and "secure suitable burial-places in which they may be properly interred…."
The original portion of the cemetery is located in the northeastern section of the present acreage, appropriately delineated by four roads designated as Old Post Drive—East, West, North and South, respectively—containing Sections 1-4, and OPS-1, OPS-2, and OPS-3. It was set aside for the burial of military and civilian personnel who died at the garrison. In 1869 the cemetery experienced enormous growth when more than 10,200 recovered remains of soldiers originally buried at other Missouri locations including Cape Girardeau, Pilot Knob, Warsaw, and Rolla were removed here. About 470 victims of smallpox at Arsenal Island were also reinterred here.
The old cemetery contains approximately 20,000 gravesites, including more than 1,000 Confederate dead. During this era, Union dead were interred in sections by state, as far as that could be determined, including: 7,536 Whites, 1,067 African Americans, 1,010 Confederate POWs, and 556 "not of military service." Within the original cemetery tract, Sections 5 through 53 were laid out; the sections currently numbered 54-66, and 88, contain older burials but are irregularly numbered because the ponds, sink holes and administrative open space was converted to burial areas.
In 1870, the cemetery "quadrangle" at Jefferson Barracks measured approximately 750’ x 1,230’, and was surrounded by a standardized wooden picket fence "recently whitewashed." Within two years this fence was replaced by a stonewall 4,269 feet long and 1’-6" wide. A 16’-wide drive lined the interior of the wall, and crossed through the cemetery delineating large sections; narrower 10’ wide paths further subdivided the grounds. "These drives and paths are covered with coarse broken stone, and, being but little used, are very uncomfortable to drive or walk over." The major interior paths had brick gutters and were lined with dense rows of the same types of trees. In addition, there were eight painted artillery guns, "planted vertically, as monuments" throughout the cemetery. In August 1871, it was reported that more than $142,287 had been spent developing and maintaining the cemetery to date. The next year Jefferson Barracks was categorized as a "First Class" cemetery, an Army designation based on "the extent and importance" of the facilities, which also determined the superintendent’s salary of $75 per month. In 1875, the first enlargement of the cemetery took place.
During the early 1880s cast-metal tablets containing verse, "The Gettysburg Address" the War Department’s General Orders No. 80, and text of the 1867 Act to establish and protect national cemeteries.
As space within the enclosure walls became limited, an expansion that would more than double the size of the cemetery was underway by the early 1890s. The original entrance with its "double iron gates hung on handsome piers of rough dressed limestone" and the old administration building/lodge were located on the north side of the existing cemetery. The landscape in some areas of Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery was one of the most contentious. Behind this building there were:
…two deep depressions in the ground, similar to the "sink-holes" in limestone formations, each having in its bottom a small pond; one has been enlarged and surrounded by a stone wall, making a miniature lake; the other is in its natural state. The ponds have subterranean communications with each other and with the Mississippi, and are affected by the rise and fall of water in that river, but are never dry.
The superintendent’s personal domain included a grape arbor, privy and cistern, as well as evergreen trees and shaped planting beds of flowers and vegetables. By 1893 the approach to the entrance was established via a gravel road flanked by deciduous trees and "plank fences." Already there were a fountain, two sheds, two stables, a two-room cottage for seasonal laborers, and a rectangular rostrum (1872) located on the expanded property.
In 1922 an Executive Order assigned 170 acres of military reservation to the Veterans Bureau (now Department of Veterans Affairs). In July 1936, the War Department formally named Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery as a component of Jefferson Barracks, along with similar designations of military reservations at instillations including those named in honor of persons, target ranges and national cemeteries.
From April 1936 through the early 1940s, Depression-era government make-work programs brought improvements to the cemetery. Works Progress Administration (WPA) laborers were responsible for building 23,000’ of hard-surfaced roads and walks, 46,000’ concrete curbs, nearly 16,000’ of "asphalt macadam" roads, and resurfacing of the same. They also removed some of the original stone wall and constructed nearly 4,600’ of "common ashler (sic) stone wall, as well as miscellaneous grading. In 1946 a new stone boundary wall and entrance gate were erected. The WPA renovated the 1872 brick rostrum that measured 23’x 38’ in 1941.
Gradually the importance of the post lessened and Jefferson Barracks was deactivated in 1946. Expansion of the cemetery, however, was granted by 1947 legislation authorizing the Secretary of War to "utilize and expand existing facilities" at Jefferson Barracks "when practicable, through the use of federally owned lands under the jurisdiction of the War Department" that were no longer needed for military purposes.
World War II casualties introduced a new focus to the cemetery as the central repository for group interments resulting from national disasters, when individual remains cannot be identified. Among the more than 560 group burials—meaning two or more veterans in a common grave—are 123 victims of a 1944 Japanese massacre of POWs in the Philippines, and the remains of 41 unidentified marines who perished in a South Vietnam helicopter crash in 1968.
Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998.
Monuments and Memorials
The Fort Bellefontaine Monument is a red granite boulder that was donated in 1904 by the Daughters of the American Revolution in honor of the officers and soldiers who died at Fort Bellefontaine. Fort Bellefontaine was de-activated as a military post in 1826 and those interred in the post cemetery were re-interred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. (OPS-1)
The Minnesota Monument is one of seven such monuments commissioned by the State of Minnesota in honor of officers and soldiers from that state who died during the Civil War. This particular monument, a bronze female figure, was the last to be erected, in 1922. The remaining six Minnesota monuments were constructed at the following national cemeteries: Vicksburg (1906-7) and Shiloh (1908), managed by the National Park Service; Marion, Ind. (1913), Memphis (1916), and Little Rock (1920).
In 1939, the remains of 175 officers and soldiers of the 56th U.S. Colored Troops Infantry were removed from a cemetery at the former Koch Quarantine Hospital in St. Louis, and re-interred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery. The men died of cholera in August 1866. The monument to the 56th USCT was moved from its original location at Koch hospital and re-erected with a new sandstone base, new dowels, and a new plaque. The monument was dedicated in May 19, 1939. (Section 57, Grave 15009)
A granite monument dedicated to the Unknown Dead of 1861-65 was erected in 1940 by the Annie Wittenmyer Tent No. 3, Daughters of Veterans, USA. Annie Wittenmyer lived from 1827 until 1900 and worked to bring food and supplies to wounded Union soldiers. Instrumental in reforming the horrific conditions in hospitals and battle camps, she was well respected by Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S Grant for her philanthropy and heroism. The monument measures 45" high and 36" wide. (Section 14)
The 35th Division Association donated a decorative water fountain to the cemetery on May 30, 1952. (Monument Drive)
Memorial to the Confederate Dead (1861-1865), erected by the Jefferson Barracks Civil War Historical Association-Missouri Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the Missouri Society Military Order of the Stars and Bars. Dedicated May 1, 1988. (Section 66)
The Memorial Chapel was built to remember the selfless acts of Americans to defend their love for God, Home, and Country. The Korean and Vietnam Gold Star Mothers and Fathers sponsored the building, dedicated to the ultimate sacrifice of all veterans. Dedicated in 1978, this is the first memorial chapel donated to a national cemetery. (Miravalle & Truman Drive)
Memorial to the Union Dead, erected by the Julia Dent Grant Tent # 16, Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Dedicated Sept. 17, 1995. (Between Sections 12 & 13)
Memorial to honor the women who helped Union forces in the Civil War, erected by the Julia Dent Grant Tent # 16, Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War. Dedicated June 2, 1996. (Section 13)
Blue Star Memorial Marker to honor the Armed Forces that have defended the United States of America, erected by East Central District of Federated Garden Clubs of Missouri. Dedicated April 26, 1998. (Flagstaff & Rostrum Drive)
Memorial to honor all women who served in Navy related service, erected by the Gateway WAVES Unit # 5. Dedicated May 9, 1998. (Flagstaff & Rostrum Drive)
Memorial dedicated to the memory of Merchant Marine Seamen and Navy Armed Guard, erected by the S.S. Samuel Parker Chapter, American Merchant Marine and Navy Armed Guard Veterans. Dedicated Nov. 11, 1998. (Flagstaff & Rostrum Drive)
Memorial dedicated to Remember All Who Served & Sacrificed within the Khe Sanh, Vietnam region, erected by the Khe Sanh Veterans. Dedicated July 16, 1999.
Memorial dedicated to all individuals who faithfully served with the 3rd Infantry Division - U.S. Army, erected by Russell Dunham, Outpost 17. Dedicated May 20, 2000. (Flagstaff & Rostrum Drive)
The 3rd Army Infantry and the Marines Memorial was dedicated to those who served their country with the U.S. Marine Corps since November 10, 1775. It was erected by the 1st Marine Division Association, St. Louis Chapter, and dedicated June 25, 2000. (Flagstaff & Rostrum Drive)
The carillon bell tower was erected as part of the AMVETS international carillon program to provide living memorials in honor of American veterans. At the time of installation, it was as described as "a very fine instrument [whose] beautiful tones can be heard throughout the entire cemetery and beyond."
On July 12, 2003, the U.S. Submarine Veteran’s Memorial stone was dedicated.
Dedicated to honor dead & all soldiers who served with the 82nd Airborne Infantry Division. Erected by the Gateway Chapter, 82nd Airborne Div Association. Dedicated Aug. 14, 2004. (Truman Drive)
Dedicated to the memory of those who served with the 4th Marine Division. Erected by Gateway Chapter # 29, 4th Marine Division. Dedicated Sept. 24, 2005. (Flagstaff & Rostrum Drive)