Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, located just north of Leavenworth, Kansas, is located near the center of the historic Fort Leavenworth Military Reservation. The garrison of Fort Leavenworth is one of the oldest continuously-active military post located west of the Mississippi River and is noted for its significant role in the development of the American West.
After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, trade routes were opened in the western territories of North America. Conflicts arose when the trade routes crossed lands that belonged to various Native American tribes. Traders soon appealed to the U.S. government for protection and aid in keeping the routes open. In response, the government established a number of military posts west of the Mississippi River--including Fort Leavenworth.
In 1827, the War Department ordered Colonel Henry Leavenworth to follow the Missouri River until he reached the mouth of the Little Platte River and establish a permanent military cantonment on the east bank there. After exploring the area, Col. Leavenworth determined that the west (ultimately Kansas) side of the river was the best site and construction of the cantonment began shortly afterwards. Due to its strategic location on both the Oregon and Santa Fe trails, Fort Leavenworth was a key crossroads for westbound settlers. The flat land near the river contained corrals and supply yards and was well suited for traders and wagon trains on their long westbound journeys.
As early as 1834, cavalry regiments from Fort Leavenworth were ordered to help quell Native American uprisings. When the Mexican War broke out, Fort Leavenworth became an outfitting post for troops headed to the Southwest. Later, it outfitted prospectors bound for California to “strike it rich” with gold. Fort Leavenworth served as Army headquarters for the West and was the site of the formal surrender of New Mexico to the United States in 1846.
Roots of the American Civil War began with the Missouri Compromise in 1820 and, afterwards, in the new Kansas territory. In addition to wars and uprising with Native Americans in the waning Indian Territory, Fort Leavenworth served to protect citizens determined to settle in the Kansas territory. During the late 1840s and throughout the 1850s, Kansas was plagued by violent skirmishes between pro-slavery and “free state” proponents. Kansas became an official U.S. territory in May 1854 with the Kansas-Nebraska Act and as the dream of statehood was kindled, the fiery debate over whether Kansas would enter the Union as a “free” or “slave” state ignited more violence and bloodshed. Many of the early burials at Fort Leavenworth reflect the tragic loss of life from this period in our nation’s history.
Kansas became the 34th state when it entered the Union on January 29, 1861. Four months later, the official outbreak of the Civil War took place at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Fort Leavenworth’s strategic location on the border of two states with opposing sympathies played a vital role in the war’s Western theatre. In 1861, Camp Lincoln was founded at the post and thousands of volunteers were equipped and trained for the Union Army. Fort Leavenworth has served as training grounds for thousands of soldiers for many wars since that time. The cemetery contains burials that resulted from the infamous Quantrill’s raid and massacre that took place in nearby Lawrence, Kansas on Aug. 21, 1863.
Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery reflects the fort’s changing role in our nation’s history. The ravages of malaria and other diseases among the first soldiers assigned to Cantonment Leavenworth necessitated the creation of a burying ground as early as 1827. Due to military tradition at the time, two cemeteries were originally established on the fort grounds: one for enlisted soldiers was located near the present site of the Commanding General’s quarters; the other was reserved exclusively for officers and was located near what is now the Combined Arms Research Library. In 1858, the remains from both post cemeteries were re-interred into a single site on the military reservation. When Congress approved the creation of national cemeteries in 1862, the Fort Leavenworth cemetery became one of 14 national cemeteries to be designated or established as such that year. Of the original 14 national cemeteries, Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery was the largest and contained 36.10 acres.
In the years following the Civil War, the bodies of Union soldiers from St. Joseph, Kansas City and Independence, Mo., were re-interred at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery. In addition, the cemetery was used as the burial ground for soldiers who served at frontier posts in Kansas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and southern Wyoming. In 1870, the Inspector of National Cemeteries reported more than 1,000 Union soldiers interred at Fort Leavenworth along with roughly 170 citizens and 7 Confederate prisoners of war.
The oldest known burial at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery is that of Clarinda Dale who died Sept. 21, 1844. She was originally interred in the old Fort Leavenworth Arsenal Cemetery. The oldest known military grave is that of Captain James Allen, 1st U.S. Dragoons, who died in August 1846. Like Miss Dale, Capt. Allen was originally buried in Fort Leavenworth Arsenal Cemetery and later moved to the national cemetery. In 1886, soldiers originally buried at Fort Craig, New Mexico, were re-interred at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery to facilitate completion of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. Following the close of the Indian Wars and resettlement of Native Americans, the Army closed or consolidated many of its small military outposts in the West. As a result, between 1885 and 1907, the federal government vacated numerous military post cemeteries and re-interred nearly 2,000 remains at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery.
The remains of Brigadier General Leavenworth, the fort’s namesake, were disinterred from Woodland Cemetery in Delhi, N.Y., and reinterred in the national cemetery on Memorial Day in 1902. The general died in 1834 at Cross Timbers, in Indian Territory, without knowing that he had been promoted from colonel to brigadier general. A large granite marker topped with an eagle in repose was erected in 1910 to mark his grave.
Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on July 15, 1999.
Monuments and Memorials
Two large grave-markers that look like monuments are located in the cemetery: the 12-foot granite marker for General Henry Leavenworth — the fort’s namesake — and an 8-foot granite marker for Colonel Edward Hatch.