Historical Context: Alexandria National Cemetery
Establishment and Early Years
The Alexandria National Cemetery, located in Alexandria, Virginia, holds a significant place in American history as the second oldest national cemetery within the national cemetery system. Its establishment dates back to 1862 during turmoil and conflict – the Civil War. This section delves into the historical context that led to the creation and evolution of the Alexandria National Cemetery.
Civil War and Military Hospitals
Alexandria emerged as a pivotal location during the Civil War, primarily due to its proximity to the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. The city played a significant role in the war effort, witnessing the establishment of numerous military hospitals dedicated to the care of wounded Union soldiers and, at times, Confederate prisoners of war. As casualties steadily increased, it became abundantly clear that there was an urgent requirement for dignified burial grounds to honor the fallen Union soldiers who served their country.
Predecessors: Soldier’s Home Cemetery
First Battle of Bull Run
Before the establishment of the Alexandria National Cemetery, another cemetery played a role in providing final resting places for soldiers. Following the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861, a cemetery was founded at the United States Soldiers and Sailors Home, known today as the Soldiers and Airmans’ Home. This cemetery in Northwest D.C. served as an early burial ground for soldiers who had fallen in battle.
Growth and Expansion
Capacity Constraints and the Formation of Arlington National Cemetery
In 1864, the Alexandria National Cemetery found itself at total capacity, a poignant testament to the staggering number of interments resulting from the Civil War. This significant limitation spurred the establishment of Arlington National Cemetery, located just five miles north of Alexandria. It was on the revered grounds of Arlington that Private William Christman achieved the distinction of becoming the first Union Soldier to find his eternal rest.
Private William Christman
Private William Christman, born on October 1, 1844, joined the ranks of Company G, 67th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, in April 1864. Unfortunately, his military service was cut short by rubella, which rapidly deteriorated his health. He was transferred to the Lincoln United States Army General Hospital in Washington, D.C., where he passed away on May 11, 1864. His burial at Arlington marked a pivotal moment in the history of the Alexandria National Cemetery.
Transformation and Legacy
Reopening and New Interments
Following the interment of Private William Christman at Arlington National Cemetery, a notable transformation occurred at the Alexandria National Cemetery. The cemetery temporarily halted interments until 1865. Upon its reopening, it started accepting the reburials of members from The United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T) who had initially been laid to rest in Alexandria’s Freedman and Contraband Cemetery. Later in expansion, the cemetery acquired additional land and adopted the name “Alexandria National Cemetery.” This expanded space enabled new burials to occur at the site until 1967.
In 1871 a Superintendent’s Lodge was constructed, but it suffered significant damage in a fire in 1878. Under the supervision of Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs, the lodge was rebuilt in the distinctive Second Empire Style in 1887, a style evident in over 50 other National Cemeteries. This lodge was crafted from Seneca Creek Sandstone, the same material behind the construction of the Smithsonian’s renowned Red Castle, the Washington Aqueduct, and the Cabin John Bridge.
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 4,500 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.
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.
Echoes of the Past: Delving into the Alexandria National Cemetery’s Legacy
The Alexandria National Cemetery is a revered site steeped in a rich historical legacy. It embodies the profound sacrifices made during the Civil War, with its origins, development, and diverse interments underscoring its monumental significance. Presented below are some compelling tales of those interred within its grounds. If you have more insights or stories, please get in touch with Gravestone Stories.
Private George Fermane: United States Sharpshooter (USSS)
Private George Fermane, who rests in eternal repose at The Alexandria National Cemetery, met his fate on August 17, 1862. He proudly served as a distinguished United States Sharpshooters (USSS) member during the American Civil War. This elite corps of warriors was instrumental in the Union Army and consisted of two renowned regiments, the First and Second Regiments of United States Sharpshooters.
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.
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.
Alton Hawkes: A Civil War Hero from Oswego
Early Life and Enlistment
At age 21, Alton Hawkes enlisted from Oswego, committing to a three-year term with the 76th New York Infantry. He was mustered into Company A on August 17, 1863, showcasing his dedication to the nation during its most divisive era.
The 76th New York Infantry in Action
- The Battle of South Mountain: The regiment suffered heavy losses due to overwhelming odds. With only 40 men, 4 were killed or mortally wounded. The regiment’s valor shone when Sergeant Stamp gave his life while bearing the national colors. Leadership was thrust upon First Lieutenant Crandall after Colonel Wainwright’s injury.
- The Battle of Antietam: As part of Hofmann’s Brigade, the 76th New York Infantry played a crucial supportive role. Positioned initially in reserve for the Corps Artillery, they later moved to bolster the artillery units of the First and Second Corps. The battle’s toll was evident, with the regiment losing several officers and enlisted men to injuries.
The Tragic End: Remembering Alton Hawkes
A Life Cut Short: Alton’s service was tragically brief. He succumbed to acute laryngitis on January 12, 1864, in the Third Division Hospital Grosvenor Branch (The Lee-Fendall House) in Alexandria, Virginia. Some records suggest diphtheria as the cause.
A Lasting Legacy: Alton’s final resting place is in Section A, #1278, at Alexandria National. Like many during the Civil War, his sacrifice remains a poignant reminder of the cost of freedom and unity.
PVT Watson Parmalee (Died November 11, 1862) Fallen Soldier of Company A, Second Connecticut Heavy Artillery: Whose Troubles Led to His Untimely Passing
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).
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.
Remembering Charles W. Needham: A Brave Comrade of the 1st Mass Cavalry
Discover the story of Charles W. Needham, a brave soldier who gave his all in the Battle of Aldie. He met his tragic end on June 30, 1863, leaving behind a legacy of courage and sacrifice as a member of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry.
A Heroic Sacrifice at Aldie Battle: June 17th
Private Charles W. Needham, a true patriot, fought in the Battle of Aldie with unwavering bravery. Mortally wounded during the intense conflict on June 17th, he displayed exceptional courage while facing adversity on the battlefield.
Final Resting Place: Section A, Site 875
The memory of Charles W. Needham lives on in Section A, Site 875, where he rests eternally. This hallowed ground commemorates his dedication to his country and fellow soldiers.
Enlistment and Legacy
Enlisting at 24 years old in Georgetown, Massachusetts, on August 7, 1862, Needham answered the call of duty and joined the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry. His enlistment began his journey as a dedicated and fearless soldier.
A Tragic Demise: Lee-Fendall House
After sustaining a mortal head wound in the Battle of Aldie, Private Needham’s fight for survival led him to the Lee-Fendall House on Oronoco Street. Despite his will to overcome, he succumbed to his injuries on June 30, 1863, leaving behind a legacy of bravery.
Honoring the Legacy
Learn more about Charles W. Needham, the Battle of Aldie, the historical significance of the Lee-Fendall House, and the first regimental Union monument in the South. Explore their stories and pay tribute to the memory of those who fought and sacrificed for a united nation. For additional information, visit this [The First Union Regimental Monument south of the Mason-Dixon Line].
Fatal Tragedy on April 24, 1865: Tragic Demise of Four Civilian Employees from the United States Quartermaster Department in the Potomac River while Chasing J. Wilkes Booth.
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.
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].
Commemorating the Tragedy: Remembering the Victims of the June 9, 1863, Fort Lyon, Virginia 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 remembered as follows:
- Private Ferdinand Wetterer, Co. D. Buried in A:818.
- Private Charles Reissner, Co. E. Buried in A:819.
- Private Franz Lutz, Co. A. Buried in A:820.
- Private John Jones, Co. A. Buried in A:821.
- Private August Friedrichs, Co. B. Buried in A:822.
- Private Charles Wendt, Co. A. Buried in A:823.
- Private John Dillman, Co. C. Buried in A:824.
- Private Frederick Kuntze, Co. E. Buried in A:825.
- Private Charles Schield, Co. C. Buried in A:826.
- Private Paul Biewald, Co. D. Buried in A:827.
- Private Jacob Kuhn, Co. E. Buried in A:828.
- Sergeant Emil Theil. Co. Unknown. Buried in A:829.
- Corporal Jacob Enternmann, Co. C. Buried in A:830.
- Private August Moritz, Co. A. Buried in A:831.
- Private Xavier Heim, Co. C., Buried in A:832 (Listed on the official records as Haver Helm.)
- Private Valentin Emrick, Co. E. Buried in A:833.
- Private Christopher Ritter, Co. B. Buried in A:834.
- Sergeant John Keonig, Co. A. Buried in A:835.
- Corporal Helwig Hillebrandt, Co. D. Buried in A:836.
- Ordinance Lieutenant Friedrich Leeber. Buried in A:837.
- Lieutenant Leo Kuchns. Buried in A:838.
- Corporal Gottlieb Messinger, Co. E. Buried in A:842.
- Private John Eckert, Co. A. Buried in A:928.
May their sacrifice be forever remembered.
United States Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.) and Buffalo Soldiers: Heroes of Their Time
The Alexandria National Cemetery is a testament to Union soldiers’ valor and includes white soldiers and hundreds of members from the United States Colored Troops (USCTs). The USCTs, established in 1863 following the Emancipation Proclamation, represented a groundbreaking shift in the military. Their integral role in the Union Army during the Civil War is evident, with around 175 regiments serving with commendable distinction.
Around 180,000 African American soldiers heeded this call, making up over 10% of Federal forces. 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.
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 U.S.C.T. 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.
Similarly, another brave soul who met a tragic end was Private Adolphus Jacobs.
Honoring the Sacrifice of 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 (U.S.C.T.) and belonged to the 28th Indiana Infantry (Colored), an African-American regiment from Indiana.
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 (U.S.C.T.) 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 28th Indiana Infantry (Colored) lost three dead in the battle.
(To view all the U.S.C.T. members buried in the Alexandria National Cemetery, please visit this City of Alexandria website [link].)
Buffalo Soldiers: Guardians of the Western Frontier
After the war, the USCT was largely disbanded. Their lasting impact is evident in the 9th and 10th Cavalries and the 24th and 25th Infantries, commonly called the Buffalo Soldiers. These African-American troops, led by white officers, primarily served in the U.S. West following the Civil War and participated in various conflicts until World War II. Recognized as some of the first national park rangers, they played a significant role in battles during the western expansion, often against Native Americans. The moniker “Buffalo Soldiers,” bestowed by Native Americans, may allude to their fierce fighting style or the resemblance of their hair to buffalo manes. Their efforts significantly furthered the cause of equality for African Americans.
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,
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.
PVT William L Phillips (1830 – May 21, 1865) Member of 1st Alabama Cavalry Regiment (Union).
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.
Solomon Williams: Fatally Injured at the Battle of Bristoe Station, 1863.
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 immediately 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.
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.
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.
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.
Official website of the 2nd New York Heavy Artillery Regiment. (n.d.). News clippings mentioning Fort Lyon. Retrieved from [URL]