Richmond National Cemetery opened in 1867 on Williamsburg Road, just east of town. It was one of several new national cemeteries created by the federal government following the Civil War, including six others in central Virginia. Located a bit further away from the city, those others included Cold Harbor National Cemetery, Fort Harrison National Cemetery, Glendale National Cemetery, and Seven Pines National Cemetery. Two others were founded to the south near Petersburg.
Initially, nearly 6,000 Union dead were reinterred in Richmond National Cemetery from original burial sites scattered across local battlefields, p.o.w. camps, hospital graveyards, and cemeteries. Most of the individuals’ names were unknown.
Richmond National was arranged as a grid, with shade trees throughout. The orderly rows of identical graves surrounded a central, elevated flagpole and gazebo. In 1870, a superintendent’s lodge was built on the property, following the designs specified by Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs. A wooden fence enclosed the cemetery, with visitors passing through a gateway with the cemetery’s name overhead.
This was a controversial project in the eyes of ex-Confederate Richmonders, whose dead were excluded from the grounds. In contrast, Richmond’s African-American community demonstrated an early reverence for the site. In 1877, the national periodical Scribners Monthly found that “the graves of this cemetery, a very handsome one, are now chiefly decorated by the colored people of Richmond, and the ceremony takes place on the 30th of May.”
After the Civil War era, the cemetery remained open to burials of United States servicemen and their spouses. Today, visitors can find the remains of veterans of the Spanish-American War, the first and second world wars, Korea, Vietnam, and more recent conflicts.
Podcast for Joseph Baar Jr. (naval fireman on board the ill-fated U.S.S. Scorpion), 1947-1968, by Bijan Hosseini and Carlos C. Martinez:
Podcast for Amos Monroe (African-American veteran of the Spanish-American War), 1857?-1931, by Sam Gary and Chris Haggard:
For more information, see:
Richmond National Cemetery, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
JoAnn Meaker, Stories Beneath the Stones: Richmond National Cemetery (American History Press, 2017)
Therese T. Sammartino, “NRHP Report for Richmond National Cemetery,” 1995, Virginia Department of Historic Resources
“Exploring Photo of Soldiers’ Graves at Rebel Prison in Richmond,” February 7, 2016, John Banks’ Civil War blog