Our National Cemeteries: Culpeper National Cemetery

Emerging Civil War is pleased to welcome Mike Block, author of the ECW book The Carnage Was Fearful: The Battle of Cedar Mountain.

The town of Culpeper is visible in this Timothy O’Sullivan photograph taken in November 1863. The future Culpeper National Cemetery site is visible across the image, from near the train depot (long single story structure), across the open ground to the foreground and small rise on the right, where the Officer’s Circle is today. (Library of Congress)

Nestled atop a small rise in the curve of what was once the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, the Culpeper National Cemetery sits serenely above the town of Culpeper, Virginia—an oasis of green adjoining the historic downtown.

The site was selected soon after the end of hostilities by Col. Marshall Independence Ludington, Chief Quartermaster Department of Washington. Work on the cemetery began in July 1866, and it “contains an area of six acres and is intended to receive the remains of all those buried between the Rappahannock river and Gordonsville. The Cemetery is located on a rising ground about one-fourth of a mile south of town. . .  and can be seen from the Orange and Alexandria Railroad at a distance of two miles above and below Culpeper. “[i]

Land for the original site was purchased from Edward B. Hill of Culpeper for $1,400. In 1872, a Second Empire Victorian-style caretaker’s lodge designed by Quartermaster Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs was constructed on the property.[ii]

Bodies were recovered for the cemetery from the battlefields of Cedar Mountain, Brandy Station and Trevilian Station, as well as hospital sites in Culpeper County, Rappahannock County, and Gordonsville. Culpeper was home to the Army of the Potomac during the winter of 1863-1864 and, during that pause in fighting, more than 1,100 soldiers died in Culpeper and Fauquier counties. When the cemetery was established, 259 dead from that winter were disinterred and removed to the cemetery.

To the right of the cemetery entrance is the resting place for 912 recovered unknown soldiers, and surrounding the flagpole in the center of the original part of National Cemetery lie the remains of 17 Federal officers, including Lt. Col. Virgil Broderick, 1st New Jersey Cavalry, and 1st Lt. Isaac Ward, 6th U. S. Cavalry, both killed at Brandy Station on June 9, 1863.[iii]

Although the cemetery was intended to be exclusive to Federal soldiers and, eventually, members of the United States armed forces, there is at least one Confederate interred here: 1st Lt. D. James V. Martin, Co. H., Palmetto Sharp Shooters, who was killed on August 30, 1862 at the battle of Second Manassas. He lies near the flagpole.

A portion of the 912 Unknown Soldiers whose remains were recovered from the battlefields of Cedar Mountain, Brandy Station, Travilian’s Station and Rapidan Station. Other remains came from Rappahannock County. (photo by Michael Block)

Within the brick-walled original cemetery, a visitor today can view five monuments, placed between 1893 and 1912, that have a direct relationship to the August 9, 1862, battle of Cedar Mountain.

Perhaps the most interesting monument dedication was that of the 28th New York Volunteer Infantry monument on August 8, 1902. Present at the dedication were many of the surviving members of the New York regiment, led by their lieutenant colonel, Edwin Brown. Joining the New Yorkers were veterans from the 5th Virginia Infantry and the local Confederate Veterans camp, named after Culpeper local Ambrose Powell Hill. The Virginians captured the 28th New York’s national standard on that hot August afternoon at Cedar Mountain. The two regimental veteran associations had held multiple joint reunions, beginning at Niagara Falls, N.Y. in 1883 and in Staunton, VA the following year and would occasionally gather over the ensuing years.[iv]

The 28th New York Infantry monument (in the foreground) dedicated in 1902 and in the background is the monument to all Pennsylvania soldiers (1912) who died in the region during the war are placed among their comrades who fell during the Civil War. (photo by Michael Block)

Other monuments on the grounds remember the unknown soldiers buried on the grounds and another to the armed forces, dedicated in 1988 and 2001 respectively.

On September 1, 1973, in execution of the National Cemetery Act of 1973, the cemetery was transferred from the U.S. Army to the Veterans Administration’s new National Cemetery System. In 1975, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Burton-Hammond Post 2524, donated an additional 10.5 acres for cemetery use. Another small tract was purchased in 1978.[v] The current cemetery encompasses just over 17 acres.

Culpeper National Cemetery is home to servicemen and women whom gave their lives in conflict or passed peacefully years after serving. Veterans from the Spanish-American War through the War on Terror are interred here.  Among those who rest here are Gen. Robert I. Stack, the man to whom Herman Goering submitted himself to custody; two members of the United States Air Force Demonstration Team (The Thunderbirds); and Phillip R. Ward, a former Iranian hostage.

Culpeper National Cemetery was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

Like most cemeteries that hold the remains of members of the armed services, on May 27 at 11 a.m., Culpeper National Cemetery will hold ceremonies to remember all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.


[i] Alexandria Gazette, July 26, 1866.

[ii] https://www.cem.va.gov/cems/nchp/culpeper.asp

[iii] Culpeper National Cemetery, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, October 18, 1995.

[iv] Culpeper Enterprise, August 15, 1902; New York Infantry, 28th Regt., 1861-1863; Dedication of the monument to the 28th New York Volunteers, Culpeper, VA, August 8, 1862, E473.76N53; Lockport Daily Journal, May 23, 1883.

[v] https://www.cem.va.gov/cems/nchp/culpeper.asp

2 Responses to Our National Cemeteries: Culpeper National Cemetery

  1. Great article, Mike! I love all the details and commemorative information you included. Thanks for doing this!

    1. Burt, Thank you! I enjoyed putting the article together. Their are great stories out there that need to be told!

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