Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served
Togus National Cemetery dates to 1867 when it was established as a final resting place for veterans who died while living at the Eastern Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers near Augusta, Maine. Located at an abandoned summer resort, the Eastern Branch was the country’s first national home to care for disabled Union veterans. The cemetery has two sections, the 1867 west cemetery, sited on a hilltop on the western side of the Home’s campus, and a 1947 addition on the east side of the campus. The older section features two monuments erected by National Home residents in 1889 and 1960.
The Civil War left thousands of volunteer soldiers with injuries and disabilities. Some required long-term care that was often more than families could provide. In 1865, the U.S. Congress passed legislation creating homes for disabled volunteer soldiers to provide medical care and all the basic necessities of life: shelter, meals, clothing, and employment.
The first branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, named the Eastern Branch, opened in 1866 in the small town of Togus, near the state capital of Augusta. The site chosen was a former health resort developed by Horace Beals. Beals purchased a 1,900-acre tract in 1859 and built a hotel, bath house and other recreational facilities to take advantage of a natural spring on site. Due to the onset of the Civil War, the resort failed to attract visitors and ultimately closed. Beals died shortly after the war, and his widow sold the property to the Federal Government. The Eastern Branch admitted its first Civil War veteran in November 1866, and within a year, more than 200 veterans were in residence.
A few months after the opening of the National Home Branch, a cemetery was established on a hilltop on the western side of the campus. The first burial took place in April 1867. An 1879 guide for visitors to the Eastern Branch provides an account of the funeral ceremony for veterans of the National Home. The home’s flag was hung at half-mast, and the veteran’s comrades escorted the casket to the gravesite. The simple graveside ceremony included the performance of a dirge followed by a chaplain-led service.
In 1889, veterans living at the Eastern Branch designed and built a stone monument for the cemetery, assisted by a resident who was a marble worker and stonemason. The monument is an ashlar stone obelisk rising from a stepped base. Set into the upper base are four polished plaques inscribed with dedications. In 1916, a second monument, an alter-like structure of cast stone, was erected a short distance away to recognize veterans of military engagements after the Civil War.
There are several notable burials in the Togus National Cemetery. Private Joseph Zisgen of the 16th New York Calvary was part of the detachment that cornered and killed John Wilkes Booth in April 1865. Three Buffalo Soldiers are buried at the cemetery. These men were members of African American infantry and cavalry regiments created after the Civil War. These regiments served in the western territories of the United States, where they protected settlers, built and renovated Army posts and camps, and maintained law and order in the western expanses of the country.
Togus National Cemetery is also the final resting place for a recipient of the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration, given for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”
The Eastern Branch Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers changed dramatically over the decades. A fire in January 1868 damaged and destroyed almost all of the main buildings on the campus. New facilities were constructed, including brick dormitories, workshops, recreational facilities, and a governor’s house. Expansion and improvement projects in the 1930s replaced all of these buildings except for the governor’s house, which is a National Historic Landmark. The site operates today as the Togus Veterans Administration Medical Center, which continues to provide care and comfort to veterans.