Do Not Migrate

This lecture is part of the 2009 Nationwide Cemetery Preservation Summit

National Cemeteries: Post-Civil War Landscapes in Transition by Sara Amy Leach

Before we go on to the cover slide, which is the Nashville National Cemetery Sketch, circa 1869. The formative era, for national cemeteries, in the United States, was induced by the Civil War. Began in 1862, as burial grounds for men who have gone to battle, and their widows or orphans were first led to slave by the President Lincoln. It appears, now, by the end of the 19th century, that the American Military action, shifted to foreign theaters.

The Army’s Department of the Quartermaster choreographed the first Federal cemeterial programming. Started for the search of the Union dead. It had a system of over 70 cemeteries. Predominately in the South-East, but as far West as Colorado, and North to Wisconsin and New Jersey.

“The National Cemeteries are to be venerated as the resting places of the noble dead of the Nation, whose memory the people desire to honor by making their graves beautiful…” -- GO 66, 1873

“The National Cemeteries are to be venerated as the resting places of the noble dead of the Nation, whose memory the people desire to honor by making their graves beautiful…”
— GO 66, 1873

Along the way, the Army dictated an exact-ive code of landscape, and architectural design, and rules of behavior. The Quartermaster General’s meticulousness resulted in a well, structural and graphical documentation, that reveals the, otherwise, lost 19th century scenes in the US National Cemeteries. And you’re going to see a lot of those in the presentation.

The elements are threefold: landscape, practical and tangible, some elements were short lived or realized only on paper. The first temporary structures, from 1865 to the early 1870s, was followed by permanent mainstream construction, circa 1870s to 1890. In the memorialization, the prescriptive issue of this is, military had come and icongraphy and literary association.

Bereaved Major E.B. Whitman, superintendent of the National Cemeteries, in the Department of Tennessee, in 1867, provides excellent account of the program. Starting with four principles, which had governed in the selection of National Cemetery sites. And these reinforced the potential for shrine and historic attraction. These are: a distinguished localities of great historical interest; points conspicuous in of the great thoroughfares of the nation; to several points, convenient of access, so that none might be omitted; and to places presenting favorable conditions for augmentation that surviving, comrades, loving friends, and grateful states might be encouraged to expand the memorials of remains for such purposes.

After thousands of mass, individual graves … And this is a detail of a map that the army put together showing patterns of military movement, and two to three hundred scattered graves, this is a detail of a much larger map. After thousands of mass, individual, graves across the South-East had been reported, Whitman created cemeterial district maps. These showed where new National Cemeteries would be created. Senior officers located these sites, mostly two to ten acres each, and their re-interments were largely complete by 1869.

This is from Nashville National Cemetery. This is Nashville, what the red flag indicates is the location of the cemetery. And the row of red stars are where battlefield skirmishes occurred. Layouts vary, some were inspired, but a specific guide that was issued by the Quartermaster, has not been found. A clear one is Military Campus. Historically the rationale between these translated into an opportunity to design an ideal town, composed of radial or orthogonal streets. Simple, uniform, government issue grave markers, helped evoke cemeteries, with good lapse of the dead. This heritage is reflected in variation on a theme plan, squares, rectangles, circles, and grids, with roads and paths to find burial sections.

A few outstanding cemeteries, such as Marietta, GA, and this is Marietta, on top. Are contemporary, picturesque landscapes … And think Central Park in New York, which was designed at the same time. Each cemetery was composed of the same components. A superintendent slot, service buildings, flag pole on graves enclosed by a fence. All accessed by formal entrance.

While each cemetery is a public space, each contained a private, or domestic landscape. Serving the keeper and his family. And these are two examples, details from 1892 era maps. In Beaufort, North Carolina, for instance, a small rectangular lot contained about two acres of land was used for vegetable gardens et cetera. It was enclosed by a wooden, picket fence. And you see how their features, cisterns and privies here.

The first structures were framed, inexpensive, impermanent, but quickly erected. The lodges, a basic wooden cottage with two rooms, were up by 1869. Immediately considered too small, the addition of a small kitchen was recommended. Renditions in Mid-South cemetery circa 1869, this is another example, illustrate early lodges and landscapes. Water was supplied by well or cisterns. Sometimes other land, shelter, tool sheds, and stables housed equipment and animals.

Prior to the mid 1870s, permanent headstones were approved. The head wood house held replacements for the decay prone wooden headboards. Headboard variations are seen in soldier’s homes in Dayton. This is Hampton, Virginia. Dayton, Ohio, and Alexandria, Virginia.

Wooden Headboards Hampton VA, Dayton, Alexandria Va.

Wooden Headboards Hampton VA, Dayton, Alexandria Va.

Cemeteries were first bored by a whitewashed picket fence. Many, including Fredericksburg and Culpeper, Virginia, Nashville and Knoxville, boasted an entrance archway. An inspector of Alexandria, Louisiana reported a handsome wooden arch and closed by double wooden gates. It’s not only identified by remote federal reservations but they foreshadow a handful of permanent, memorial archways.

The transition from tempos to permanent construction occurred in the 1870s. If one structure is associated with the cemeteries, it’s the second French Empire lodge, designed by Quartermaster Montgomery C. Meigs. A combined dwelling and office for the superintendent and his family. Erected of stone and brick in 1870, the earliest. It’s appearance echoes a state ward, Navy building. The former state quarter, Navy building. It has been changed, the name has been changed. Under construction across from Meigs’ office at the same time, as well as Meigs’ own home.

The modest roof’s satellite shrines the Union’s victory, would not be lost in former Rebel communities. Just as the transformation of Robert E. Lee’s beloved plantation into Arlington National Cemetery was emblematic towards devastation to the South. The permanent lodges were a major improvement. A new brick cottage in Richmond, Virginia, one and a half stories high with three rooms on the ground floor, and three chambers, French roof and dormer windows, was called very unique to very comfortable. Similarly, an unusual Seneca sandstone version, completed 1870 in Alexandria, Virginia, was much prettier in style, and far more convenient than the one story, low roof lodges built late in many cemeteries.

Less is known about lodge variance, built in a few cemeteries. Winchester, Virginia, a rare one story Vegas lodge, was erected in 1871. This is the only picture of it. This is the edge of post card. A completely different style is represented by the brick lodge of Baranncas, Florida. Which was well suited to it’s environment, a long one story building, containing three rooms, having a piazza around it, ina railroad staging style.

Interior view of national cemetery, Winchester, VA.

Interior view of national cemetery, Winchester, VA.

Funding was limited, so when feasible, old buildings were recycled. In Annapolis and Fort Richmond, Fort Harrison, Virginia or elsewhere, the lodge had been moved a few feet in rear of the new one and is used as a kitchen. Two generations of lodge captured in a photo of Fredericksburg National Cemetery, circa 1870, here. And at New Burnworth, North Carolina, this transitional scene is recorded. The eastern end of the cemetery lot is set apart for the lodge, outbuildings, and gardens. The lodge is a wooden cottage with two rooms with kitchen detached. This lodge has recently been replaced by a stone one. The tool house and courtyard under one roof present a much more respectable appearance, and is usually found in such manners at the government cemeteries.

Wood from the lodge at Pool Harbor, Virginia, were salvaged for a new tool house and privy, circa 1875. Meigs’ design at A.J. Downing, inspired Orton Back-en-box. A steep roof and an ornamental roof was built in New Albany, Indiana.

The biggest improvement to cemeteries, were permanent headstones and markers, approved in 1873, based on durability, permanence, and design. Secretary Warren Belmac, himself, selected the upright slab. The cambered top for known soldiers and a lone six by six marble or granite mark for unknowns. And we’ll do more about headstones this afternoon.

Marker-stone enclosure walls were completed at a few cemeteries about 1869. But the balance went up in the 1870s. Only Army wrote for the major variations are evident today. One of the most involved elements, of the most significant National Cemeteries, are the massive, cast iron, gates depicting traditional military imagery. Eagles, flags, shields, artillery, reeds, and spears, which help set the somber, and commemorative tone for visitors.

Smaller and lower class cemeteries were equipped with less imposing gates. Most National Cemeteries were established outside of distant from the rail, water, or highway connections. Pineville Louisiana, Alexandria National, was a community that felt that it’s cemetery is so situated that it’s inaccessible to the general public. Unless decided improvements be made to the street or approaches from the river. This task helped the US Government. The road to Pinegle was improved in 1888, for $11,000. Likewise the cemetery at Culpeper, Virginia, in 1890, being an avenue 30 feet wide. On each side of which was a row of shady trees, and a handsome picket fence.

National Cemetery, Culpeper, Va.

National Cemetery, Culpeper, Va.

Between 1870 and 1890, Congress appropriated more than $430,000 for improved links to National Cemeteries, in 24 locations. When funds be came available to improve cemetery landscape, in 1870, Meigs contacted Frederic Olm Stead the renowned landscape architect urged designs to be studiously simple. The main object would be, establish permanent dignity and tranquility. Sacredness being strapped in the enclosing wall and the perfect tranquility of the trees within.

Within a few years, Meigs’ issue, the common sense, constructions relative to the cultivation and care of trees in National Cemeteries. In it, he advocates, a small collection of fruit trees, which thrive best in the neighborhood, for their well proportioned, graceful sizes, and shapes. He also calls for climbers about the odge and ornamental shrubbery. None of which we enjoy now. High maintenance problems.

Visual evidence does confirm that these ideas took place, and helped achieve Om-stead’s sacred grove concept.

A number of cemeteries have remaining greenhouses, including Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Alexandria, Virginia. Many encouraged officers to forego inexperienced labor, because one skillful gardener, with the aid of the lawn owner, which is now sublime, could accomplish more in the way of adding to the beauty of the cemetery, than two or three unskilled hands. This is for an ad in Alexandria, Virginia, according to the description that we have, this is an early post card. In the center of the lawn was a natural man on a small fountain, with a stone basin. A great many trees and shrubs line the avenue walks. New hurst flowerbeds, lay out in the form of several corp badges, are filled with choice flowers.

Greenhouses at Fredericksburg, Va.

Greenhouses at Fredericksburg, Va.

The superintendent is an amateur florist, who takes great pride and pleasure in cultivating the finest varieties of flowers. The small greenhouse is located in the southwest corner, in which the plants are kept in winter.

Osage orange, noticed for fast growth, and spiny branches, was a popular American hedge-tree, before the advent of wire fences. The army planted this inside the early cemetery fences as a long term feature. It is unlikely that they survived long after the walls were built and we have none of them, anymore.

A rare nod to spirituality, materialized in the growth of trees or hall at Memphis, Tennessee, Fort Scott, Kansas. These are documented and planned by three or four rows of trees that when fully grown, will be an enclosure in the shape of a cross, roofed by the arching of the limbs. a traveler to new bird described a happy combination of maple trees so arranged so as to form a Latin cross. In the center, one can easily believe themselves being within the walls of some stately cathedral and realize how the gothic style of architecture originated.

Taste was also reflected in a hierarchy of drives, paths, and floral beds. Surfaces ranged from gravel to crushed shells to [inaudible 00:16:29] with the vast aligned with brick gutters. The active and urban cemetery in Alexandria boasted main avenues paved with small stones and covered with coal tar by 1869. Taste was also … I’m sorry.

In Mississippi, in Corinth, Mississippi, in Natches, there were … These represent cemeteries that have 16 foot wide serpentine avenues, which reduced grating and filling necessities during construction. Similarly, paths were allowed to green over presumable for the visual effect as much as comfort and maintenance. Outlined space at Glendale National Cemetery on the left, one of several circle in a square plans was used for embellishment with these corners used for flower and vegetable gardens.

The star-shaped plan of Fayetteville.

The star-shaped plan of Fayetteville.

The star-shaped plan of Fayetteville is perhaps the most cumbersome. The points of the rays are joined by paths in such a manner as to form dime shaped plants devoted to flowers and shrubbery between the triangles, leaving six equal segments or sections outside for burial purposes. Other artifacts would complete the landscape.

The reinterred Union Civil War debt often segregated by unit, race, and rank, with officers grouped together. How it was … It was difficult to sustain this kind of orderliness. In 1867, 68, Maggs toured Europe where he recalled triangle arches and gates of round and monumental tablets of antiquity. Architectural elements that he would bring into the national cemeteries.

His pilgrimage to foreign destination echos the popularity of rural American cemeteries as tourist attractions. This was a problem at Chattanooga National Cemetery where the superintendent recalled a cheap and rapid means of … Transportation that’s cheap and rapid getting tourists to the cemetery, invited an unwhelming number of Sunday visitors, and their whole object recreation and who look on and treat the cemetery as a public park designed for their enjoyment.

Military artilleries is the most common military symbol in the cemeteries. In the late 1860s, each was typically assigned two to four old guns and projectiles required as ornaments. Some signs were more literal. In the 1870s and 80s, the installation of tablets taught history in decorum that first were bronze shields for the gun monuments procured in 1873, which fulfilled Maggs conviction, that no cemetery can be considered properly finished until some considerable monumental brass bears an inscription according to its establishment and the number of dead soldiers it contains.

Most relevant, however, is Lincoln’s Gettysburg address cast in iron or bronze to [inaudible 00:19:50] Roman laws and speeches engraved on bronze tablets that he saw France. A more modest iron tablet of public law 37, the act to establish and to protect national cemeteries was installed in the cemeteries as well.

Flower Garden at the National Cemetery, Winchester, Va.

Flower Garden at the National Cemetery, Winchester, Va.

Visitors needed rules. General orders in 1875, admonished person for acting like they were in a park by picnicking, visitation after dark, and speeding. There were these charming little signs that told visitors to go to the lodge, meet the superintendent for information considering the cemetery will be cheerful. Literary melancholy is introduced by the Bivouac of the Dead poem by Theodore O’Hara, which he wrote after the Mexican American War. It became popular … It remained popular through the Civil War.

To retain sentiment but improve upon the verses and paint the side boards that had been unsightly, the army installed quotations on cast iron tablets in 1882. By 1890 visitors observed quotations from this one poem are repeated over and over on painted boards and turns of the avenues among the graves. In Antietam Cemetery, one might pick up and put together almost the entire production from the inscriptions.

Lines from Ben Wagner are inscribed on Mariette gate at Arlington National Cemetery, one of five massive neo-classical gates built starting in the 1870s. Symbolism of the triumphal arch tradition was recognized even as the Chattanooga gate was being erected. This was reported in the newspaper.

The 32 foot tall archway, by its hugeness, its immensity, Roman in character and its architectural military conveys the very idea in itself, that it stand as a monument over the country’s dead. Rounding up the Victorian landscapes are iconographic floral beds, at Chattanooga, graves and flowers depict the US shield. At Alexandria, like other cemeteries, army core badges inspired beds shaped as stars or hearts.

The ultimate memorial to the dead, however, was initiated by General John A. Logan grand army of the republic, when he called for a official declaration of memorial day in 1868. This date also invited the dedications of commemorative memorials across the country. This graph does wander into the 20th century, but it illustrates the way of Civil War monument construction by both sides in the 19th century.

Memorial day was designated on May 30 to coincide the availability of spring flowers to place on graves, as a fitting tribute to the memory of our slain defenders. Let no man neglect no ravages of time, testified to the present or to the coming generations that may have forgot as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

Civil War Monuments in NCA National Cemeteries and Lots, 1860-1960

Civil War Monuments in NCA National Cemeteries and Lots, 1860-1960

The years after the Civil War saw Union victory and national patriotism manifest in the world’s first system of military cemeteries, shaped by ancient traditions and modern taste. Temporary construction was followed by durability, commemoration, and beauty. Just as these Victorian landscapes might be called mature like the old soldiers who witnessed reunification, their fate was doomed.

Urban sprawl approached, out-dated were raised, roads widened for autos, walkways filled with burials, and the new style of headstone was produced. New and more horrific methods of warfare, safely beyond American shores, helped to further render these small cemeteries a vestige of the past.

The system of designed national cemeteries that President Lincoln authorized in 1862 evolved in form and formality throughout the second half of the nineteenth century in the wake of the Civil War. Visitors no longer see the small cemeteries of less than 10 acres with their generous open space, natural and managed plantings, clusters of domestic buildings occupied by resident superintendents, and ornamental and symbolic artifacts sprinkled throughout the sites. These scenes are captured only in early drawings, photographs and written accounts.

The first impermanent generation of wooden structures—buildings, fencing, and head boards to mark graves—lasted less than a decade. Osage orange hedges, floral beds or mounds, and grassy walks somewhat longer. Memorial monuments—large and small, erected by friends, regiments and states—were installed to honor the fallen. By the 1870s permanent cemetery features were underway. The most significant construction was the masonry Second Empire-style lodge credited to Montgomery Meigs; others include a brick tool house and “comfort station,” brick or stone walls, and iron gates. Cemetery layouts were influenced by militaristic orderliness as well as, in some locations, the design ideals of contemporary cemeteries and advice from designer Frederick L. Olmsted.

However, starting in the twentieth century, these secular, honorific landscapes were increasingly reduced to dense burial sections highlighted by underutilized historic lodges and rostrums. Even the most historic cemeteries run by the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) today reflect the priority of burial needs over the preservation of historic landscape aesthetics; this is particularly apparent at “expanded” sites where newer sections do not complement original designs. It is NCA’s mission to provide burials to veterans and eligible family members, and to achieve this we continue to develop new cemeteries or enlarge older properties. Among NCA’s 128 national cemeteries are 72 sites that date to the early 1870s.

This presentation will document the changing physical and memorial nature of NCA’s national cemeteries during the decades immediately after the Civil War, starting with the collection of the human remains and their relocation to permanent burial grounds. The developmental era of the cemeteries—associated with modest, impermanent facilities—closes once permanent masonry constructions are complete. By the dawn of the twentieth century these designed landscapes reinforced early recognition of the national cemeteries as “national shrines” in locations where the war played out.

Author Biography:
Sara Amy Leach, Senior Historian at the National Cemetery Administration (NCA), joined the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2001 and initiated the NCA History Program. She worked at the National Park Service for 13 years previously, including five years at the Natchez Trace Parkway as Chief of Interpretation & Visitor Services then park Cultural Resource Specialist.  She was an Historian at the Historic American Buildings Survey and the National Capital Region before that.  She has an M.A. in Architectural History and Certificate in Historic Preservation from the University of Virginia, and B.A. in Journalism/B.F.A. in Art History from Ohio Wesleyan University.

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