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Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served
Springfield National Cemetery was established in 1867 on prairie land south of Springfield, Missouri. Today, the cemetery’s 18 acres are bounded by residential neighborhoods and commercial areas. Initially created as a final resting place for Union soldiers who died in battle near Springfield, the cemetery now contains the remains of veterans from other wars, including the Revolutionary War, Spanish-American War, and World War II. The Springfield National Cemetery also includes a six-acre portion established by the Confederate Cemetery Association in 1871. An act of Congress in 1911 authorized the Secretary of War to accept the Confederate cemetery as a part of the Springfield National Cemetery.
Springfield, Missouri, lies on the Springfield Plateau of the Ozark Mountains, which gives the city its nickname, "Gateway of the Ozarks." First settled in 1829 by John Polk Campbell, the area quickly became an established settlement with stores, mills, and a post office, and was incorporated as a town in 1838.
Although Missouri voted to stay in the Union, Confederate sympathies ran strong throughout the state. On August 10, 1861, the first major Civil War engagement west of the Mississippi River occurred ten miles south of Springfield. More than 5,000 Union troops and 12,000 Confederate forces clashed at Wilson’s Creek. The battle ended in a Confederate victory, but disorganization and bad planning prevented Southern forces from capitalizing on their success. The battle is significant, marking the first death of a Union General in combat; Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon died during a Union charge, felled by a Confederate bullet.
After the Civil War, the city of Springfield purchased 80 acres of prairie for a cemetery, and granted the U.S. government the privilege of selecting a plot for a national cemetery. Five acres were selected on the highest ground and purchased for $37.50 an acre. The Springfield National Cemetery was officially established in 1867, and many of the men who died in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek were buried there. Additionally, the remains of Union troops buried in several Missouri counties were removed and reinterred in the new cemetery.
In 1871, a Confederate cemetery was established adjacent to the national cemetery, containing roughly six acres total with an area of 2.7 acres enclosed by a wall. In March 1911, Congress authorized the Secretary of War to accept the Confederate cemetery as part of the Springfield National Cemetery. A deed restriction prevented the burial of anyone other than Confederate military veterans within the boundaries of the old Confederate cemetery.
The national cemetery’s original five acres were laid out in a square pattern, with evenly spaced paths crossing perpendicularly and diagonally. A limestone wall, capped with sandstone slabs, lines the perimeter of the original grounds. The wall, constructed in 1874, replaced a wooden picket fence. At the center of the original grounds is a circle with a flagpole and four artillery monuments. Immediately west of the front entrance gate stands the cemetery’s administration building, a two-story brick structure with a slate hipped roof. Built in 1940, the brick building served as a home and office for the cemetery’s superintendent. Renovated in 1996, the building today is used solely for administrative purposes. At the northwest corner of the original cemetery grounds stands a brick service building constructed prior to 1933; it has been extensively modified since it was built.
Also located on the grounds of the cemetery is a rectangular stone-block rostrum. Built between the Confederate and Union portions of the cemetery, the rostrum resembles a miniature Greek temple and features speakers’ lecterns on both sides for patriotic and memorial observances. Bronze plaques on the rostrum’s south side face toward the Confederate graves. One plaque references the Confederate soldiers buried there and the battles in which they died, notably the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. The other plaques state the establishment dates of the Confederate cemetery and the installation of the cemetery’s carillon in 1979. On the rostrum’s north side, facing Union graves, a single plaque is inscribed with a memorial to the veterans of the Vietnam War.
Several large commemorative monuments stand on the cemetery’s grounds. Two are located just east of the administration building. The oldest is a memorial honoring Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, the commanding officer at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and the first Union General to die in the Civil War. The 12-foot-tall monument, erected in 1888 by the citizens of Springfield, is a marble pillar topped with a knight’s helmet, battle axe, and wreath. Nearby the Lyon monument, a Union memorial stands 25-feet tall. Erected in 1907 in accordance with the bequest of local doctor T.J. Bailey, it features a life-sized statue of an infantry soldier and is inscribed with a commemoration honoring the Union dead. The other side of the monument has an inscription stating that the monument was “erected under the provisions of the last will of Dr. Thomas Bailey to show his love for the Union and its gallant defenders”
Commissioned by the United Confederate Veterans of Missouri in 1901, Italian sculptor Chevalier Trentanove created a bronze figure of a Confederate soldier to honor both the Confederate soldiers of Missouri and General Sterling Price, a former governor of Missouri and the Confederate commander at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. The front of the monument features a bronze bas-relief portrait of Price. Also located within the old Confederate cemetery grounds is a granite marker, placed in 1958 by the Daughters of the Confederacy, honoring the unknown Confederate dead at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.
Springfield National Cemetery is also the final resting place of five recipients 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."