As part of the National Cemetery Administration (NCA), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, Cultural Resource Analysts just completed a two-year project to create interpretive signs for NCA’s 79 Civil War-era national cemeteries, 18 Confederate cemeteries, and 15 soldiers’ lots. Working in close collaboration with NCA’s historians, public history specialists Mudpuppy & Waterdog, and leading sign manufacturer Pannier Graphics, the CRA team researched, designed, and manufactured signs presenting the origins of the national cemetery system and the histories of the individual Civil War-era properties under NCA’s care.
In response to the staggering death tolls of the Civil War, which eventually claimed the lives of an estimated 700,000 Union and Confederate soldiers, an Omnibus Act of July 17, 1862, directed the president to purchase land to be used as “a national cemetery for the soldiers who shall die in the service of the country.” Fourteen national cemeteries were established that year. Dozens of others were created in the years immediately following the war, established near camps, hospitals, battlefields, and railroad hubs where troops concentrated. By 1884, when the Presidio post cemetery was designated San Francisco National Cemetery, the War Department managed a national cemetery system that stretched coast to coast.
The interpretive signs present the diverse origins of these sites, highlighting the local and national events that led to the establishment of each cemetery, the unique landscape design and monuments that characterize each property, and the remarkable individuals who lie in these hallowed grounds. Historic drawings and photographs from the collections of the NCA, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and local repositories illustrate their stories.
Signs have been installed in cemeteries from Togus, Maine to Saint Augustine, Florida, and from Alexandria, Virginia to Los Angeles, California. Six cemeteries in CRA’s home state of Kentucky were included in the project, including Lexington National Cemetery, seen in the following images. The signs are intended to enrich the experiences of visitors to these important national shrines and will be posted to NCA’s website to a reach a broader audience.