Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg

Gettysburg National Cemetery

Gettysburg National Cemetery is located on Cemetery Hill in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Shortly after the Battle of Gettysburg, with the support of Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin, the site was purchased and Union dead were moved from shallow and inadequate burial sites on the battlefield to the cemetery. Local attorney David Wills was the man primarily responsible for acquiring the land, overseeing the construction of the cemetery, and planning its dedication ceremony, although the initial concept and early organizational efforts were led by rival lawyer David McConaughy. The landscape architect William Saunders, founder of the National Grange, designed the cemetery. It was originally called Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg.

The removal of Confederate dead from the field burial plots was not undertaken until seven years after the battle. From 1870 to 1873, upon the initiative of the Ladies Memorial Associations of Richmond, Raleigh, Savannah, and Charleston, 3,320 bodies were dug up and sent to cemeteries in those cities for reburial, 2,935 being interred in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond. Seventy-three bodies were reburied in home cemeteries.

Saunders's design had two facets: first, the Soldiers National Monument was placed at the center, promoting the Union victory and the valor of the fallen soldiers; second, the graves were arranged in a series of semi-circles around the monument, emphasizing the fundamental egalitarian nature of U.S. society, with all the graves considered equal. The original plan was to arrange the plots in essentially random order, but resistance from the states caused this to be modified and the graves are grouped by state, with two sections for unknowns and one section for the regular army. (In later years, additional graves were added outside the original section for the dead of the Spanish-American War and World War I.) There are numerous other monuments in the cemetery, including the New York Monument, the first statue to Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds, the "Friend to Friend Memorial" in the National Cemetery Annex, and the monument to Lincoln's address.

The cemetery was dedicated on November 19, 1863. The main speaker at the ceremony was Edward Everett, but it was here that Abraham Lincoln delivered his most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address. The night before, Lincoln slept in Wills's house on the main square in Gettysburg, which is now a landmark administered by the National Park Service. The cemetery was completed in March 1864 with the last of 3,512 Union dead were reburied. It became a National Cemetery on May 1, 1872, when control was transferred to the War Department. It is currently administered by the National Park Service as part of Gettysburg National Military Park and contains the remains of over 6,000 individuals who served in a number of American wars, from the Mexican-American War to the present day.

3,512 Union soldiers were buried in the cemetery; of these, 979 are unknown.

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