List and History of the 14 Original National Cemeteries

headstones at national cemetery

The list of national cemeteries contains 131 burial grounds in 39 states, including Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. They have been deemed as being of national importance by the U.S. government since many of the individuals buried there served their country in one capacity or another or is an immediate family member of someone who did.

History of National Cemeteries

On July 17, 1862, U.S. Congress authorized President Abraham Lincoln to purchase land needed to create national cemeteries. These securely enclosed graveyards were to house the growing number of Civil War soldiers who died in battle. Before this time, those killed in the line of duty were buried in one of three ways:

  • On the site or battlefield where they died
  • In a military post cemetery
  • In a private cemetery chosen by the deceased soldier's family

Honorable Burials for Soldiers

This way of handling the war dead was inadequate because of the large number of soldiers dying during battle. The government felt these soldiers deserved a more honorable burial because of the sacrifices they made. The first national cemeteries were created as final resting places for Union officers and soldiers who were killed during the Civil War.

Creating National Cemeteries

Creating a group or list of national cemeteries was considered an urgent matter at during this time. Many of the servicemen who eventually were buried in them were first laid to rest on battlefields, campgrounds, or in hospitals until the land and monies became available for the national graveyards. Once the national cemetery was created, the bodies were moved and reburied. By the end of 1862, the first 14 national cemeteries were established in:

  • Virginia
  • Maryland
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • New York
  • Kansas
  • Iowa
  • Indiana
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington, D.C.

Military Burial Requirements

In 1867, the National Cemeteries Act was enacted by Congress to not only fund these burial grounds, but also to help bury the remains of more than 250,000 Union officers and soldiers who died in battle but did not receive a proper burial. This act was amended in 1872 -- and subsequently in 1873 -- to include all soldiers, sailors, and Marines who died during battle.

Changing Burial Requirements

Over the years, the burial requirements were revised numerous times, allowing not only spouses and dependents of veterans to be buried in national military cemeteries, but also public health service persons and World War II Merchant Mariners, among others.

Compiling the List of National Cemeteries

In 1930, the Veterans Administration (now called the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or VA) was created by Congress to oversee the benefits and facilities for the growing number of veterans. This entity later oversaw the construction and maintenance of the country's national cemeteries. Today, the VA and its National Cemetery Association compile the list of national cemeteries, categorizing them by individual state.

States Without National Cemeteries

As of 2010, 41 states, including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have at least one national cemetery except for:

  • Connecticut
  • Deleware
  • Idaho
  • New Hampshire
  • Nevada
  • North Dakota
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

State Veterans Cemeteries

These territories, however, have state veterans cemeteries, which have similar burial requirements to national cemeteries, but may have specific residency requirements. They are run solely by their state government rather than the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, however, they may be funded with monies from the VA's State Cemetery Grants Program.

Navigating the List of National Cemeteries

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' compilation of national cemeteries is broken down by state and individual cemetery. Through this list, you can view photographs and information about the cemetery including:

  • General information such as location, phone number, address, and office hours
  • Visitation hours
  • Maps (at some locations)
  • Schedule for burials
  • Notable monuments and memorials
  • Floral and ground regulations
  • Available burial space
  • Directions from closest airport
  • History
  • Notable persons buried there
  • Nationwide gravesite locator

What this list doesn't include is a map of specifically who is buried at the cemetery. You will need to have at least the deceased person's last name to find out where he or she is buried.

Additional Information About National Cemeteries

The VA's National Cemetery Association can help you research and locate a national cemetery. The group can also give you information about burial requirements, survivor's benefits, military headstones, and having a funeral with military honors. There is a lot of information and many benefits available for veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, so take a few moments and find out exactly what is available and what requirements must be met to be buried in a national cemetery.

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List and History of the 14 Original National Cemeteries