Alexandria National Cemetery: A Journey Through History

Discover the stories of valor and sacrifice in one of America’s most historic resting places, just miles from the nation’s capital.


Entrance to the Alexandria National Cemetery on Wilkes Street, approximately 1865. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

Introduction

Nestled within the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex, the Alexandria National Cemetery stands as a solemn testament to America’s past. As the second-oldest national cemetery in the federal system, established in 1862, it predates even the renowned Arlington National Cemetery. Some 4230 souls rest within its 5-acre bounds, including approximately 3,900 Union soldiers. This hallowed ground honors those who served our nation and tells the remarkable stories of courage, sacrifice, and unity.1

A Sanctuary of History: The Founding of Alexandria National Cemetery

During the Civil War, Alexandria quickly became a critical site for the Union Army due to its strategic position near Washington, D.C., and was the first town in the Southern Confederacy to be occupied. Its significance extended beyond its proximity to the capital as it transformed into a crucial hospital hub to manage the war’s heavy toll of wounded and ill soldiers. By commandeering over 30 local buildings, including churches, private homes, and notable properties like the Lee-Fendall House, the city was adapted into an extensive medical network. These facilities, operating at their zenith between 1862-1865, offered approximately 6,500 beds to accommodate the injured troops. The effort to care for these men drew surgeons, nurses, relief workers, and family members to Alexandria, making it a focal point for medical care and recovery amid the ongoing conflict.

The Lee-Fendall House in Alexandria, Virginia, served as a hospital for Union soldiers during the Civil War. It was the location of the first and only successful blood transfusion during the war.

(To view an insightful map of Alexandria’s various Civil War hospital locations, please check out this resource from The Office of Historic Alexandria: [link]).

The patients flooding into Alexandria’s Civil War hospitals included wounded Union soldiers, both white and black regiments; Confederate prisoners of war; and African American refugees who liberated themselves behind Union lines. Caring for this surge of casualties highlighted the urgent need for adjacent military burial grounds to inter the steady stream of Union dead with dignity. This grim reality catalyzed the establishment of the Alexandria National Cemetery amid the early years of conflict.

Alexandria National Cemetery as the Civil War Nears Its End, View Facing North. Note the wooden headboards, which had to be replaced regularly. Image retrieved from The Library of Congress.

Reaching Maximum Capacity

In 1864, the Alexandria National Cemetery reached its capacity due to the high death toll from the Civil War. To solve the space issue, plans were made to create another national cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, just five miles north. Private William Christman became the first military member to be buried there, marking the beginning of Arlington National Cemetery.

(See “The William Henry Christman Story” written by Rick Bodenschatz in 2012 for more on this soldier’s poignant tale [http://www.tobyhannatwphistory.org/assets/WilliamChristmanHistory.pdf])

Following the interment of Private William Christman at Arlington National Cemetery, the Alexandria National Cemetery temporarily halted interments until 1865 when Union Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs oversaw the acceptance of reburials of members from The United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T). In December 1864, over 400 African American soldiers signed a petition while recovering at the nearby L’Ouverture Hospital, objecting to the burial of their deceased comrades in the Contraband Cemetery. Meigs heeded their calls for equality and ordered the disinterment of 119 soldiers, reburying them with honor in the Soldiers’ Cemetery amongst white Union dead. This act marked the Cemetery’s desegration as the first integrated federal military burial ground. Today a total of 249 United States Colored Troops lay in eternal repose within the cemetery.

Later, the cemetery acquired additional land and adopted the name “Alexandria National Cemetery.” While this expansion enabled new burials to occur at the site until 1967, the cemetery is considered closed except for the interment of eligible spouses within existing family plots or individuals with pre-approved burial arrangements. No additional space is available to accommodate recently deceased veterans or family members not meeting designated exceptions. (For additional information, please visit this link: https://gravestonestories.com/the-alexandria-national-cemetery-visitor-information/)

Early depiction of soldiers’ graves at the Alexandria National Cemetery with wooden headboards. The photo was attributed to Andrew Russell. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

In 1871 the Superintendent’s Lodge was built to serve administrative needs. However, just seven years later a fire severely damaged the building. Under General Montgomery Meigs, a new Seneca red sandstone lodge was constructed in 1887. More recent key developments include the closing of the cemetery in 1967, though some sections were reopened in later decades to inter cremated remains of eligible veterans and dependents.

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The inscription that graces the former Superintendent’s abode at Alexandria Cemetery, presently serving as VFW Post 609’s lodge.

Today, the Alexandria National Cemetery serves as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made during the American Civil War. It is the final resting place for over 4230 individuals, many of whom were Union Soldiers who bravely engaged in the conflict. Significantly, 249 members of the United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.) are also interred here, underscoring the diverse array of individuals who shaped the nation’s history.

1930s photograph depicting upright artillery monuments at Alexandria National Cemetery, shown with field artillery that is no longer present on site. Photo retrieved from the Library of Congress.

Confederate Presence and Daughters of the Confederacy

Although the primary focus of the cemetery is on honoring Union Soldiers, a noteworthy chapter of its history pertains to the burial of Confederate prisoners of war. However, in 1879, the Daughters of the Confederacy took the initiative to oversee the relocation of these soldiers’ remains. The majority were reinterred in a communal grave at Alexandria’s revered Christ Church burial ground on North Washington Street. As a result, no Confederate soldiers are interred within the confines of the cemetery.

Tribute at Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia, honoring the thirty-four Confederate soldiers interred in its churchyard.

Heroes and History: The Lives Behind the Stones

The Alexandria National Cemetery contains numerous captivating stories of military service, courage, and sacrifice among those laid to rest on its solemn grounds. While its Civil War origins and evolving history reveal the cemetery’s profound overall meaning, the diverse individual interments provide compelling portraits of tenacity, patriotism, and valor. Presented here are just some of the inspiring narratives etched beside the headstones of this hallowed burial place. From tales of lethal sharpshooters and wartime accidents to courageous colored troops and even volunteer firefighters, the spirits of American perseverance and duty live on through these fallen heroes’ stories etched in stone.

Soldiers are mourning their fallen comrades at the Alexandria National Cemetery. Date unspecified. Photo retrieved from The Library of Congress.

Civil War Combat Stories

George Fermane, Elite Marksman of the Civil War

Private George Fermane, who rests in The Alexandria National Cemetery, met his fate on August 17, 1862. He served as a United States Sharpshooters (USSS) member during the American Civil War. This corps of soldiers was instrumental in the Union Army and consisted of the First and Second Regiments of United States Sharpshooters.

Early in the war, the United States Sharpshooters (USSS) were used near Alexandria to spy on and scout the Confederates, especially at Munson’s Hill (Falls Church). As the armies moved, they were deployed at Falmouth (opposite Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock) and during the Peninsula Campaign. They were also effective in the Battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862, and saw action at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.

The USSS held a rigorous standard for entry, demanding that volunteers pass a challenging marksmanship test. To qualify, they needed to achieve a remarkable feat: stringing together ten consecutive shots within a ten-inch-wide target from 200 yards.

Patterned after the legendary British Green Jackets of the Napoleonic War, the U.S. Sharpshooters owed their creation to the visionary Colonel Hiram Berdan. Throughout the conflict, they proved themselves to be exceptional soldiers. Clad in dark green caps, coats, and pants and equipped with leather gaiters, their uniforms lacked the telltale shine of brass buttons, buckles, or insignia. This deliberate choice ensured their camouflage in the theater of guerrilla-style warfare, a mode of combat they had mastered. Armed with the Sharps 1859 breech-loading target rifle, the USSS could swiftly load and fire from various positions – prone, standing, or even perched in trees – at a rate of fire three times that of standard rifles. The Sharps exhibited a terrifying accuracy of up to 600 yards, remaining deadly beyond that range. The sharpshooters aggressively maneuvered into advantageous firing positions in battle, often targeting high-value adversaries such as officers or artillerymen.

A skilled sharpshooter from the Army of the Potomac, depicted during picket duty in 1862 amid the American Civil War, as captured by Winslow Homer. (Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sharpshooter)

While the unit to which Private George Fermane belonged remains shrouded in mystery, as do the circumstances of his demise, his legacy as a member of the USSS underscores his courage and commitment to a nation torn by civil strife.

The gravestone of George Fermane, located in Section A, Site 98 of the Alexandria National Cemetery, marks one of the cemetery’s earliest burials. This cemetery was the first of 14 authorized by Congress in 1862.

Charles W. Needham: Cavalryman Felled at Aldie

A Massachusetts native, he enlisted on August 7, 1862, at age 24, in the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment. His journey soon began as Private Needham committed to the Union cause in a nation divided. His courage would face testing in the crucible of battle.

On June 17, 1863, Needham’s regiment engaged in combat at Aldie, Virginia, as part of a five-day clash in the Loudoun Valley. This fierce fighting resulted in over 1,400 casualties (killed, wounded, missing, or captured), as well as the loss of thousands of horses. Union commander Joseph Hooker was desperately trying to gather intelligence on the whereabouts of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s army, which was moving north during its second invasion of the North. The opposing cavalry forces clashed repeatedly as the Confederates sought to conceal their maneuvers. This campaign would ultimately culminate in the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg from July 1-3, 1863.

Eyewitness accounts describe Needham’s steadfast bravery amidst the chaos as he charged ahead boldly on horseback. But a horrific head wound halted his advance permanently.

The 1st Massachusetts Cavalry Monument is situated along VA-734, also known as Snickerville Turnpike, approximately 4.8 miles north of US Route 50 in Virginia.

Badly wounded, Needham endured a grueling transport along with others injured by hospital wagon to the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. From there, they were moved by rail into Alexandria, where Needham was admitted to Grosvenor Branch, a Union Army hospital housed in the Lee-Fendall house, clinging to life. Despite valiant medical efforts, his condition worsened over the next two weeks. Needham finally succumbed on June 30, 1863, at just 25 years old.

Initially created by the Virginia Central Railroad in 1852, the map depicts the Orange and Alexandria Railroad route. The map also illustrates the railroad’s southern extension, which stretches from Charlottesville to Lynchburg – image from Wikipedia.

Needham was buried in Alexandria National Cemetery, known then as “Soldier’s Cemetery”. His sacrifice solemnly underscored the devastating cost of war. Needham gave his life for the union and country. His courage and selflessness etched for eternity beside the weathered gravestones of patriots who also gave their last full measure. To explore deeper into the history of the Battle of Aldie and the details on the first Union monument dedicated on Southern soil, please read the blog post: [The First Union Regimental Monument south of the Mason-Dixon Line].

Charles W. Needham’s Gravestone at Alexandria National Cemetery – Section A, Site 875

Private Solomon Williams: Fatally Wounded at Bristoe Station

Private Solomon Williams, a young soldier of just 20 years, bravely fought in the Battle of Bristoe Station on October 14, 1863, in Prince William County, Virginia. Serving with dedication in the 140th PA Volunteers, Company E, he played a role in this crucial Civil War confrontation. Despite the Union forces being outnumbered by Confederate Lieutenant A.P. Hill’s larger troops, they achieved victory through a swift ambush. Regrettably, during the heat of the battle, Private Williams was severely injured, receiving a gunshot wound to his upper right arm.

He was admitted to Grosvenor Branch, a Union Army hospital housed in the Lee-Fendall house. Faced with the severity of his injury, the medical team had no choice but to amputate his arm. Private Williams’ condition deteriorated despite their efforts, and he tragically died from pyemia, or blood poisoning, on October 31, 1863. He was buried in Section A, Site 1037. His story serves as a testament to the bravery and sacrifices made by many during the Civil War.

Solomon Williams’ gravestone in the Alexandria National Cemetery – Section A, Site 1037.

Alton Hawkes: Brief Life, Enduring Sacrifice

On August 17, 1863, the New York native enlisted in the Union’s 76th New York Infantry, assigned to Company A. Hawkes would join fierce fighting that very month.

At the Battle of South Mountain, the 76th suffered heavy losses against extreme odds—only 40 men remained, with 4 killed. Sergeant Stamp gave his life heroically protecting the colors. After Colonel Wainwright fell injured, leadership passed to First Lieutenant Crandall. During the culminating carnage at Antietam days later, Hawkes and the 76th played a crucial artillery support role despite casualties.

Hawkes’ own war contribution proved tragically brief. He contracted acute laryngitis and diphtheria that winter. As his condition worsened, Hawkes was admitted to Alexandria’s Grosvenor Branch hospital—the converted Lee-Fendall House. But the valiant care there could not prevent the inevitable. Alton Hawkes perished on January 12, 1864, only months after dedicating himself to the Union cause.

The 21-year-old now rests among other fallen comrades in Plot 1278 of Alexandria National Cemetery—his lasting memorial a poignant reminder of lives cut short for freedom.

The Lee-Fendall House bore grim witness to the final moments of over 200 Union soldiers out of some 2,000 admitted during the war alone. Like countless mortally wounded troops overflowing all available space, the fate of Needham, Williams, and Hawkes intertwined with the converted mansion that sought to save lives even as death loomed near. After they perished, their bodies were moved to the temporary morgue in the house’s garden until transported for burial. The Union dead now resting at Alexandria National Cemetery remain but a fraction of the blood-stained toll borne by all Civil War combatants and caregivers. Whether they fell amid gun smoke or drew their last breaths wrapped in bandages, their gravestones recall the steep price paid by soldiers and surgeons alike.


The Fort Lyon Powder Magazine Explosion

Soldiers during the Civil War faced many dangers beyond just combat. For example, on June 9, 1863, at 2:00 p.m., a major explosion occurred at Fort Lyon, Virginia. This was caused by the accidental ignition of eight tons of powder and several rounds of ammunition.

The soldiers affected by this tragedy were all New York 3rd Battalion Heavy Artillery members. Tasked initially with extracting wet powder from shells using wooden spoons, the soldiers were unsatisfied with the progress of their work. The Lieutenant in charge ordered them to switch from spoons to priming wire. Unfortunately, this seemingly minor change triggered the ignition of a shell, setting off a chain reaction that led to the immediate loss of twenty-one lives. Tragically, two additional soldiers succumbed to their injuries in the aftermath. This incident served as a sad reminder of the dangerous nature of handling munitions, even in non-combat settings. The Lieutenant in charge, Leo Kuchns, was one of the victims of the blast, further compounding the tragedy.

The story of these brave soldiers and the tragic incident they faced can be explored further in [The Sad Fate of the New York Volunteers] blog.

The fallen soldiers are forever remembered as follows:

  1. Private Ferdinand Wetterer, Co. D. Buried in A:818.
  2. Private Charles Reissner, Co. E. Buried in A:819.
  3. Private Franz Lutz, Co. A. Buried in A:820.
  4. Private John Jones, Co. A. Buried in A:821.
  5. Private August Friedrichs, Co. B. Buried in A:822.
  6. Private Charles Wendt, Co. A. Buried in A:823.
  7. Private John Dillman, Co. C. Buried in A:824.
  8. Private Frederick Kuntze, Co. E. Buried in A:825.
  9. Private Charles Schield, Co. C. Buried in A:826.
  10. Private Paul Biewald, Co. D. Buried in A:827.
  11. Private Jacob Kuhn, Co. E. Buried in A:828.
  12. Sergeant Emil Theil. Co. Unknown. Buried in A:829.
  13. Corporal Jacob Enternmann, Co. C. Buried in A:830.
  14. Private August Moritz, Co. A. Buried in A:831.
  15. Private Xavier Heim, Co. C., Buried in A:832 (Listed on the official records as Haver Helm.)
  16. Private Valentin Emrick, Co. E. Buried in A:833.
  17. Private Christopher Ritter, Co. B. Buried in A:834.
  18. Sergeant John Keonig, Co. A. Buried in A:835.
  19. Corporal Helwig Hillebrandt, Co. D. Buried in A:836.
  20. Ordinance Lieutenant Friedrich Leeber. Buried in A:837.
  21. Lieutenant Leo Kuchns. Buried in A:838.
  22. Corporal Gottlieb Messinger, Co. E. Buried in A:842.
  23. Private John Eckert, Co. A. Buried in A:928.

They gave their lives in service to their nation and now rest for eternity on the solemn grounds of Alexandria National Cemetery. The tragic accident that claimed them will never be forgotten, memorialized by the very gravestones that mark where they lay.

A Soldier’s Final Rest: Winslow Homer’s Reverence

The Heavy Toll of War: Watson Parmalee’s Tragic End

Laid to rest in Section A, Plot 446, Private Parmalee’s life ended after enduring three arduous weeks in an Alexandria, Virginia hospital, finally succumbing on November 11, 1862. His name finds a place on the Soldiers Memorial in Litchfield, Connecticut. (The ancestor of the owner of Gravestone Stories, Private Frederick A. Olroyd, faithfully served in Company D, 2nd Connecticut Volunteer Heavy Artillery Regiment. Enlisting in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on September 5, 1864, he was honorably discharged on July 7, 1865, at Ft. Ethan Allen, Virginia, at 4348 Old Glebe Road, Arlington, Virginia.)

The passing of Private Parmelee was movingly recounted by Lewis Bissell, a comrade from the same company, who noted that Parmelee was consumed by his concerns, ultimately leading to his demise. (Mark Olcott with David Lear, The Civil War Letter of Lewis Bissell, A Curriculum, The Field School Educational Foundation Press, Washington, D.C., 1981, Pg. 30).

Close-up of the Litchfield, CT Soldiers Memorial, highlighting the inscription of Watson Parmelee’s name under Alexandria, Virginia. Captured by Michael Herrick’s lens.

On the day of Parmelee’s departure, he was laid to rest in the Alexandria National Cemetery, surrounded by his fellow company members in a somber burial ceremony. The ceremony concluded with three volleys of rifle fire resonating over his resting place, a solemn tribute to his memory.

Located in Section A, Site 446, is the gravestone of Watson Parmalee. This permanent gravestone is designed in the “Civil War” style from 1873. It is 10 inches wide and 12 inches high, featuring a recessed shield that displays the inscription in bas-relief. The top of the stone and the upper four inches of the sides are finely finished, with the grave number engraved at the top.

United States Colored Troops (USCT) and Buffalo Soldiers: Heroes of Their Time

Highlighting the contributions and sacrifices of African American soldiers.

The Alexandria National Cemetery stands as a testament to the valor of Union soldiers, including both white soldiers and hundreds of members from the United States Colored Troops (USCTs). The Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863, authorized the Federal Government to receive African Americans “into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.” Building upon this, General Order 143, dated May 22, 1863, formally established the United States Colored Troops (USCTs). The creation of the USCTs represented a groundbreaking shift in the military during the Civil War. Their integral role in the Union Army is evident, with around 175 regiments serving with commendable distinction, highlighting the significant contributions of African American soldiers in the fight for freedom and preserving the Union.

In response to this call, around 180,000 African American soldiers, making up over 10% of Federal forces, joined the ranks of the USCTs. Recognizing that a defeat for the North could risk their return to bondage, both freemen and ex-slaves displayed unwavering dedication to their nation and an enduring commitment to ensuring the perpetual freedom of their people.

After the war, the pioneering units of the United States Colored Troops were largely disbanded as the Army downsized dramatically. However, their legacy and impact lived on through the newly formed all-Black regimental units known as the “Buffalo Soldiers.” Stationed primarily in the Western frontier, the 9th and 10th Cavalries and the 24th and 25th Infantries continued the fight for equality through their courageous service. These African-American troops also served as some of the country’s first national park rangers, playing a vital role in battles during westward expansion and against Native American tribes. Their storied nickname stemmed from comparisons to buffaloes’ fierce combat abilities and hair styling. Well into the 20th century, the Buffalo Soldiers carried on the proud legacy of African-American military service.

Six Buffalo Soldiers are laid to rest at Alexandria National Cemetery: Joseph F. Whelen (B:3606) from Company L of the 24th Infantry, John T. Stevenson (B:3592) from Companies A and C of the 10th Cavalry, Conny Gray (B:3587) from Company H of the 25th Infantry,

Members of the 25th Infantry Buffalo Soldiers, some in buffalo robes, were at Ft. Keogh, Montana, on December 14, 1890—image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Corporal Lorenzo Foster (B:3581) from Company C of the 10th Cavalry, George Foster (B:3565) from Company C of the 10th Cavalry, and Lewis J. Cook (B:3560) from Company H of the 9th Cavalry.

(To view all the USCT members buried in the Alexandria National Cemetery, please visit this City of Alexandria website [link].)

United States Colored Troops Sacrifices at the Battle of the Crate

The Colored Troops played a significant role in the tragic Battle of the Crater, which took place on July 30, 1864, during the Petersburg Campaign. Injured soldiers from the 28th and 29th USCT were among those transported to Alexandria, Virginia, for medical care.

One of those mortally injured in battle was Reuben Wilson. He was with the 29th Wisconsin and rests in plot B:3393.

More than 300 members of the USCT who sustained injuries in the battle were transported to Alexandria’s L’Overture Hospital.

Similarly, another brave soul who met a tragic end was Private Adolphus Jacobs.

Private Adolphus Jacobs: A Tale of Courage from the Battle of the Crater.

Adolphus Jacobs, a soldier of the 28th United States Colored Infantry, served diligently during the American Civil War. He was part of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) and belonged to the 28th Indiana Infantry (Colored), an African-American regiment from Indiana.

Recruiting Poster for United States Colored Troops (USCT). Library of Congress.

During the Battle of the Crater, Jacobs showed bravery. Even after getting injured in his hip, he continued fighting. A month later, from Alexandria, he wrote a letter to his family about his injury.

I never got over the hurt I received at the Charge at Petersburg, but I am as well as far as health is concerned as I ever was.”

(Miller, Edward A. Jr., Alexandria Historical Quarterly, Volunteers for Freedom: Black Soldiers in the Alexandria National Cemetery, Part II, The Office of History Alexandria, Winter 1998, Pg 2).

Private Jacobs didn’t recover from his war injury and passed away 22 on August 14, 1864, due to his wounds. He was first buried in the Contraband and Freedmen Cemetery but was later moved to the Alexandria National Cemetery in January 1865, along with other United States Colored Troops (USCT) soldiers. This highlights the bravery and sacrifices of soldiers like Jacobs, who contributed to the fight for freedom. More details can be found in the blog post [The Contrabands and Freemans Cemetery: a Historic Burial Ground for Freedmen and Fugitive Slaves in Alexandria, Va.].

The gravestone of Private Jacobs in the Alexandria National Cemetery. Section B, Site 3348.

Other USCT Interments

Shadrach Murphy: A USCT Soldier’s Sacrifice and Legacy of Unity

Shadrach Murphy was a valiant soldier who served as a Private in the 23rd United States Colored Infantry (USCT), Company B, hailing from Baltimore. Born into a time of great turmoil in American history, Murphy enlisted in the Union Army on December 17, 1863, bravely stepping forward to defend the ideals of freedom and equality.

Tragically, his life was cut short by illness, succumbing to consumption on December 25, 1864, while under the care of L’Ouverture Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia. Despite his untimely demise, his legacy would not be forgotten.

In a poignant moment following his passing, a group was assigned to escort his body for burial. However, when the escort refused orders to divert to the Freedman’s Cemetery, Superintendent Gladwin intervened, having the escort arrested. This incident sparked outrage and solidarity among his fellow soldiers.

On December 27, 1864, over 400 soldiers signed a petition to honor Murphy’s memory and acknowledge their identity not as contrabands, but as soldiers of the U.S. Army, fighting alongside their white counterparts. Their unity echoed Murphy’s own courage and commitment to the cause of freedom.

We are not contrabands, but soldiers of the U.S. Army, we have cheerfully left the comforts of home, and entered into the field of conflict, fighting side by side with the white soldiers, to crush out this God insulting, Hell deserving rebellion. As American citizens, we have a right to fight for the protection of her flag, that right is granted, and we are now sharing equally the dangers and hardships in this mighty contest, and should share the same privileges and rights of burial in every way with our fellow soldiers who only differ from us in color.

Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). Object 32 – U.S. Colored Troops Burial Petition. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. https://department.va.gov/history/100-objects/object-32-u-s-colored-troops-burial-petition/

In January 1865, the collective efforts of those who revered Murphy resulted in the reinterment of over 100 soldiers, including Murphy himself, a testament to the enduring spirit of camaraderie and respect among those who served in the United States Colored Troops. Though his time on this earth was brief, Shadrach Murphy’s sacrifice and dedication to the principles of justice and liberty will forever be remembered.

The gravestone of Shadrack Murphy is located in Section B, Site 3330. Following an incident at his burial, his fellow USCT (United States Colored Troops) members drafted a petition demanding recognition as soldiers rather than contrabands. This petition is regarded as one of the earliest acts of civil rights advocacy in the United States.

Alfred Whiting and the Legendary 54th Massachusetts

Alfred Whiting served in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, an African American unit formed by Massachusetts following President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Unlike units later organized under the United States Colored Troops designation, the 54th was among the initial Black regiments to engage in the Civil War. Commanded by Robert Gould Shaw, a veteran of the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry with a background in abolitionism, the regiment prepared for battle at Camp Meigs in Readville near Boston.

Training took place at Camp Meigs in Readville, near Boston, until late May 1863. On May 28, the regiment left for the front, moving through Boston amid widespread public support and boarding the DeMolay for the South. This marked a significant start to their combat service.

Before joining the army, Whiting was a waiter in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, married Catherine Keith in 1862, but they had no children. The 54th’s bold attack on Battery Wagner in South Carolina in July 1863 was pivotal, encouraging over 180,000 Black soldiers to join the Union Army, significantly impacting the war’s direction and the struggle for equality.

Whiting enlisted at twenty-three in Readville on April 22, 1863, becoming a sergeant in the 54th. He was missing after the July 18, 1863, Battery Wagner assault and officially listed as such in August. Despite records, Whiting was captured, enduring imprisonment in various locations before being paroled on March 4, 1865. He rejoined the army but died of typhoid fever at L’Ouverture U.S. Hospital, buried in section B:3519.

The Assault on Fort Wagner: The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry on July 18, 1863, at Morris Island, Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.

Catherine Whiting applied for and was granted a widow’s pension on September 3, 1867, in recognition of her husband’s service and sacrifice.

Alfred Whiting’s gravestone. B:3519

For further insights into the valor and contributions of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) to the Union’s efforts in the American Civil War, follow this link [ “Oh, give us a flag, All free without a slave”].


Tobias Trout: A USCT Hero’s Journey

Tobias Trout’s story epitomizes the courage and sacrifice of those who fought for freedom during one of America’s darkest periods. According to Davis’s Alexandria at War 1861-1865: African American Emancipation in an Occupied City (2023), Trout, formerly enslaved in North Carolina, stood tall at 5′ 10″, with a dark complexion and a slender frame, possessing not only physical strength but also musical talent, wielding a fife with skill and pride.

Standing tall at 5′ 10″, with a dark complexion and a slender frame, Trout possessed not only physical strength but also musical talent, wielding a fife with skill and pride. In January 1864, he enlisted in Company C of the 31st United States Colored Troops (USCT), a regiment initially organized in New York.

Trained alongside his comrades, Trout and his fellow USCT soldiers prepared to confront the forces of tyranny and injustice. However, fate dealt them a cruel hand when, at the last moment, General Burnside redirected the trained USCT regiments, including the 31st, replacing them with inexperienced white troops.

The consequences of Burnside’s decision were disastrous. In the infamous Battle of the Crater, where Union forces detonated explosives beneath Confederate defenses, confusion and chaos reigned. White troops faltered, and the Confederates seized the opportunity to regroup, turning the crater into a death trap.

Amidst the carnage, Trout and his fellow USCT soldiers, undeterred by the perilous odds, charged bravely into the fray. Engaging in vicious hand-to-hand combat, they captured enemy positions, displaying unparalleled valor and resilience.

Tragically, victory proved elusive as Confederate reinforcements launched a fierce counterattack, driving the Union forces, including Trout, back into the crater. Despite their heroic efforts, many USCT soldiers faced capture or were mercilessly slain by the enemy.

Wounded but unbowed, Tobias Trout endured the horrors of battle, where he played his fife with mournful strains while solemnly escorting fallen comrades to their final resting place—a poignant tribute to their valor and sacrifice. Among his courageous actions was the signing of the L’Ouverture Petition, a declaration alongside 443 fellow soldiers, affirming their commitment to justice and equality. Sadly, Trout’s journey was cut short when he fell ill in early 1865, ultimately succumbing to “Gangrene of the Lungs” on April 15th, 1865—the same day as President Abraham Lincoln’s passing.

In this historic image, captured sometime between early December 1864 and early April 1865, we witness a solemn gathering of African American Union soldiers from L’Ouverture Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia. The composition hints at the somber occasion as these men, including a corporal, eight infantrymen, a drummer, and a fifer, stand united in honor of a fallen comrade.
Of particular note is Tobias “Toby” Trout (31st USCT), prominently positioned as the first soldier on the left. His presence in the photograph echoes the bravery and sacrifice detailed in his mini-biography. Among his comrades are William DeGraff (22nd USCT), John H. Johnson (27th USCT), Jerry Lyles (or Lisle) (28th USCT), Leander Brown (30th USCT), Samuel Bond (19th USCT), Robert Deyo (26th USCT), Adolphus Harp (19th USCT), Stephen Vance (30th USCT), George H. Smith (31st USCT), Adam Bentley (19th USCT), and Reverend Chauncey Leonard.
Preserved within the private collection of Ross J. Kelbaugh Collection/ HistoricGraphics.com, this poignant image serves as a testament to the sacrifices made by these brave individuals during a tumultuous period in American history.

Tobias Trout’s journey embodies the indomitable spirit of the USCT soldiers, whose courage and resilience paved the way for a brighter future amidst the shadows of adversity and strife.

Tobias Trout gravestone. B: 3478

Civilian Stories

Interesting accounts of civilians interred at the cemetery.

Fatal Tragedy in Potomac During Lincoln Manhunt

The Alexandria National Cemetery interments reflect not just military deaths but also civilian sacrifices in service to the nation.

  • Peter Carroll (Passed Away on April 24, 1865) Resting Place: Plot A:3077.
  • Samuel N. Gosnell (Passed Away on April 24, 1865) Resting Place: Plot A:3174.
  • George W. Huntington (Passed Away on April 24, 1865) Resting Place: A:3176.
  • Christopher Farley (Passed Away on April 24, 1865) Resting Place: A:3175.
U.S. Quartermaster Department personnel posing at their Alexandria, Va., headquarters, which was located near Ralph’s Gut. Following the collision of the coal barge Black Diamond with the sidewheel steamship USS Massachusetts on the night of April 23-24, 1865, four volunteers from the associated U.S. Steam Fire House were lost. (Library of Congress). The Washington and Old Dominion Railroad depot was located between Fairfax and Lee Streets. However, some facilities, like an engine house and a turntable, were located on the north side of Oronoco Street.

Uncover the Narrative in this Blog: [The Tragic Incident of the Black Diamond: the Untold Story of Civilian Casualties in Pursuit of Lincoln’s Assassin].

A granite boulder stands prominently to the left of the Alexandria National Cemetery flagpole, flanked by the gravestones of the four civilians who died in the collision between the USS Massachusetts and the coal barge the Black Diamond, the night of April 23-24, 1865.

Hidden Histories: Unveiling Unique Stories

William L. Phillips: Alabama Unionist in the Civil War

The Alexandria National Cemetery houses an unconventional gravestone belonging to Private William L. Phillips, who played a notable role in the 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment. This cavalry regiment had a unique history as it was primarily composed of Southern Unionists and served within the Union Army during the American Civil War. Remarkably, it was the sole predominantly white Union regiment originating from Alabama. Out of the 2,678 white Alabamians who bravely enlisted in the Union Army during that tumultuous time, a significant majority, numbering 2,066, found their place in the ranks of the 1st Alabama Cavalry.

William L. Phillips himself was part of this regiment, embarking on a temporary assignment under the command of Colonel Abel D. Streight during the raid across northern Alabama from April 19 to May 3, 1863. His journey with this command ultimately led to their surrender in Rome, Georgia, on May 3, 1863.

In addition to his military service, William L. Phillips was a family man, the son of William and Nancy B. (Chick) Phillips. On December 29, 1853, he entered into matrimony with Salena Bannister, the daughter of James and Martha (Deverix) Bannister, in Forsyth County, Georgia. Their union brought three children: Martha Virginia, Lewis Lafayette, and James William. Tragically, William’s life was cut short during the Civil War, and his final resting place is now in the Alexandria National Cemetery. The cause of his untimely death is recorded as a cyanide overdose, marking a poignant chapter in the history of this unique Union regiment from Alabama.

William L. Phillips’ gravestone in section B:2950. Stone flat on the ground. This flat marker is a typical post-WWII design, likely replacing one that was damaged or lost. Many cemeteries in the Wilkes Street Cemetery Complex feature government-provided gravestones for veterans of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and other recent conflicts. The complex also includes Confederate gravestones, supplied post-1903 by congressional act, recognizable by their pointed tops and absence of shields.

Conclusion

From its early days amid the Civil War to the present, the Alexandria National Cemetery stands as a profound memorial to those who served our country in times of conflict.

Flags are placed in the ground at Alexandria National Cemetery each year on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.

Sources of Information

Crowninshield, B. W. (1891). A history of the First Regiment of Massachusetts Cavalry Volunteers. Houghton, Mifflin, and Company. The Cambridge Press.

Annual Report of the Adjutant-General of the State of New York for the Year 1897. (1898). Registers of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Artillery in the War of the Rebellion. Transmitted to the Legislature January 14, 1898. Wynkoop Allen Beck Crawford Co. State Printers. New York and Albany.

Olcott, M., & Lear, D. (1981). The Civil War Letters of Lewis Bissell. Field School Educational Foundation Press. Washington, D.C..

Miller, E. A., Jr. (1998). Volunteers for Freedom: Black Civil War Soldiers in the Alexandria National Cemetery, Part 1. Historic Alexandria Quarterly. Office of Historic Alexandria. Retrieved from https://media.alexandriava.gov/docs-archives/historic/haq/historicalexandriaquarterly1998fall.pdf?_gl=1*pseacf*_ga*MTU5NTk0NjU3MC4xNzA3MDU2NzQ4*_ga_249CRKJTTH*MTcwNzA2NDY0Ny4yLjAuMTcwNzA2NDY0Ny4wLjAuMA.

Miller, E. A., Jr. (1998). Volunteers for Freedom: Black Civil War Soldiers in the Alexandria National Cemetery, Part 2. Historic Alexandria Quarterly. Office of Historic Alexandria. Retrieved from https://media.alexandriava.gov/docs-archives/historic/haq/historicalexandriaquarterly1998winter.pdf?_gl=1*19caxxy*_ga*MTU5NTk0NjU3MC4xNzA3MDU2NzQ4*_ga_249CRKJTTH*MTcwNzA2NDY0Ny4yLjAuMTcwNzA2NTA3OS4wLjAuMA

Davis, A. (Ed.). (2023). Alexandria at War 1861-1865. African American Emancipation in an Occupied City. Office of Historic Alexandria, Press.

Official website of the 2nd New York Heavy Artillery Regiment. (n.d.). News clippings mentioning Fort Lyon. Retrieved from [URL]

State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center. Retrieved from https://museum.dmna.ny.gov/unit-history/infantry-1/76th-infantry-regiment

City of Alexandria. (n.d.). The USCT and Alexandria National Cemetery. Retrieved from https://www.alexandriava.gov/cultural-history/the-usct-and-alexandria-national-cemetery

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). History of Government Headstones and Markers. Retrieved from https://www.cem.va.gov/history/hmhist.asp

Wilson, R. (2018, June 26). Trial by fire for the U.S. Sharpshooters at Yorktown, Part 1. https://emergingcivilwar.com/2018/06/26/trial-by-fire-for-the-u-s-sharpshooters-at-yorktown-part-1/

Wilson, R. (2018, June 26). Trial by fire for the U.S. Sharpshooters at Yorktown, Part II. https://emergingcivilwar.com/2018/06/27/trial-by-fire-for-the-us-sharpshooters-at-yorktown-part-2/

Civil War Washington. (n.d.). Hospitals. Civil War Washington. Retrieved from https://civilwardc.org/introductions/other/hospitals.php

  1. The oldest national cemetery is at the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in NW Washington, DC, established after the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run). The Annapolis National Cemetery, established shortly after the Alexandria National Cemetery, is considered the second cemetery under the July 1862 Act. ↩︎
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