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National Cemetery Administration

 

History Program

Current Projects

Learn About Essential Historic NCA Cemeteries - Two Books Available as Free Downloads

The National Cemetery Administration (NCA) History Program has released two educational products based on research completed for the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, 2011-2015. Interpretive signs on site explore local military activity, why soldiers are buried here, Medal of Honor recipients, memorials and more. While much has been written about honoring the Union dead, until now little documentation was assembled about Confederates who died as POWs and whose graves are managed by the U.S. government. Both books support the NCA Veterans Legacy Program, begun in 2014.

Interpretive Signs in VA National Cemeteries: Commemorating the Civil War Sesquicentennial, 2011-2015Interpretive Signs in VA National Cemeteries
In 2014-2015, NCA installed interpretive (or wayside) signs in VA’s oldest cemetery properties: 78 national cemeteries, 15 soldiers or government lots in private cemeteries, and 9 all-Confederate cemeteries.

Federal Stewardship of Confederate DeadNCA Federal Stewardship of Confederate Dead
Civil War-era national cemeteries were created to bury Union dead. But the U.S. government was also responsible for Confederate dead--most associated with prisoner-of-war camps. This cultural resource study examines 9 all-Confederate cemeteries and 9 national cemeteries containing the greatest number of Confederate graves. The 311-page book contains 245 illustrations (GPO 2016, ISBN 978-0-16-093255-7).

 

75 Years Ago: Remembering Pearl Harbor & World War II Veterans

Left: Burial section at NMCP, today. Right: Flag draped caskets for interment at NMCP in 1949.

December 7, 2016, marks the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, an event that brought the United States into World War II. In less than two hours, the American death toll topped 2,400, with 1,178 injured. National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific (NMCP) Hawaii, developed to bury Pacific Theater dead, opened in January 1949 with the interment of an unknown serviceman who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. NMPC is the final resting place for many Pearl Harbor casualties, and by December of that year NMCP contained more than 13,000 World War II dead. Temporary wooden grave markers were replaced with granite flat markers in 1951. At NMCP, Pearl Harbor losses are commemorated by a memorial flagpole and seven monuments.

The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, a congressionally-charted veteran service organization formed in 1958, has donated more than 20 monuments to NCA cemeteries nationwide. In 2015 the Department of Defense (DOD) escalated its efforts to identify 1,061 individuals who died at Pearl Harbor and other maritime losses, and who were buried as "unknowns" at NMCP. Using DNA technology and other scientific techniques, as of this anniversary, DOD has disinterred 388 remains from NMCP and verified more than 50 identities.

Learn about some World War II veterans and their service relating to Pearl Harbor.

Learn about NMCP from the National Register of Historic Places nomination (revised 2014).

Learn more about DOD “unknown” disinterments at NMCP.

 

Scout, POW, Enlistee, Diplomat, Code Talker: American Indians in Military Service

Left: Headstone of Clarence Wolf Guts, last Lakota Code Talker, buried in Black Hills National Cemetery. Right: Code Talkers in San Diego, California, 1942. Department of Defense.

During U.S. westward expansion in the nineteenth century, most wars pitted American Indian tribes against one another and the Army. However, tribesmen also served alongside white and black enlisted men and officers--an estimated 20,000 during the Civil War. From the first American Indian to graduate from West Point in 1822 to specialist Navajo Code Talkers in World War II, American Indians also had to overcome racial discrimination in order to serve our nation. Many are buried in NCA cemeteries.

Learn more about American Indians in Military Service.

Learn more about American Indian Code Talkers in WWII.

 

Hispanic Heritage Heroes

Sgt. 1st Class Modesto Cartagena, ca. 1950

During Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15) NCA highlights the long tradition of military service by the Hispanic community. Hispanics have contributed to military successes since the settlement of the Southwest Territories, including the "Bushmasters" during World War II and the Puerto Rican Borinqueneers beginning in World War I.

Learn more about Hispanic Heritage Month.

 

Recognizing Vietnam War Service

Vietnam Veterans of America plaque at Calverton National Cemetery

In recognition of the Vietnam War, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has designated March 29, 2016, as the day to express gratitude to this generation of Americans who have "borne the battle," and acknowledge those now interred in its national cemeteries. VA National Cemeteries contain twenty-seven monuments, and the graves of thirty-eight Medal of Honor recipients from the Vietnam era.

Learn more about Vietnam War memorialization.

 

NASA rocket.

Lift Off: Military Service in Aviation History & Space Exploration

NCA owes its origins to the Civil War, as does the Signal Corps, U.S. Army. Airborne communication of military information started with “air telegraphy,” balloons, and Zeppelins before World War I. In the twentieth century, servicemembers piloting fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and supersonic jets ushered in the U.S. space program. We dedicate Cape Canaveral National Cemetery on November 20, 2015, in recognition of these men and women.

Learn more about notable aviators interred in VA national cemeteries.

 

NCA Civil War Sesquicentennial Commemoration (2011-2015)

New Albany National Cemetery.

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 HistoryPhotographs of early Army and Navy Medals of Honor and a Medal of Honor headstone.
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, 379 Medal of Honor recipients are interred in VA cemeteries. Learn more about these honored dead and the commemoration.

Civil War 150th Commemorative SeriesImage of Abraham Lincoln.
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
Roll of Honor, 1869, No. XXI (21), Memphis (Tennessee) National Cemetery (Under Development)
Roll of Honor, 1869, No. XXII (22), Nashville (Tennessee) National Cemetery
Roll of Honor, 1868, No. XIV (14), Salisbury (North Carolina) National Cemetery

 

100 Years of Historic National Cemetery Burial Recordsregistry

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.

 

Preserving Historic Superintendent LodgesKeokuk Superintendent Lodge

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.

Mothballing NCA's historic lodges

 

 

32nd Indiana Infantry (Bloedner) Monument ProjectBloedner Monument

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.

History and Context of the Bloedner Monument
Moving and Conservation Slideshow
Frazier History Museum

 

New Gettysburg Address Tablets for National Cemeteries
to Honor Abraham Lincoln BicentennialGettysburg Address Tablet

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.

General

General History
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.

Publications

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.

Historic Resource Information

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.

'Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary' Series

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:

Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served
Veterans Affairs National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers

Education Tools

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.)

More Lesson Plans
Helpful Research Links

 

 

NOTE: Page may contain links that will take you away from the Department of Veterans Affairs website.