Alexandria (VA) National Cemetery; Superintendent’s Lodge at City Point National Cemetery
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Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served

Philadelphia National Cemetery

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia National Cemetary
Philadelphia National Cemetery from the rostrum
Courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration, History Program
Established in 1862, the Philadelphia National Cemetery was comprised of lots from ten different Philadelphia area cemeteries.  In the late 1880s, the national cemetery was reestablished in a single location to provide a dignified and consolidated burial place for the Union soldiers who died in the Philadelphia area.  Today, located roughly 22 miles north of downtown Philadelphia, Philadelphia National Cemetery contains the remains of more than 12,000 veterans from the Civil War and later conflicts, along with spouses and dependents.

Philadelphia’s factories, arsenals, and navy yards manufactured many crucial elements of the Union’s war supplies, ranging from uniforms to gunships.  The Frankford Arsenal along the banks of the Delaware River employed more than 1,000 workers assembling guns and ammunition.  The Schuylkill Arsenal, renamed the Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot in 1926, was the U.S. Army’s source for uniforms, blankets, and flags.  Multiple government-owned and private navy yards along the Delaware River built warships, including the USS New Ironsides, an ironclad launched in 1862 to serve in the Union Navy’s blockading squadrons.

Two forts protected Philadelphia from potential Confederate attack. Located along the Delaware River just south of downtown, Fort Mifflin was primarily a prison, housing both Confederate prisoners of war and Union soldiers and civilians accused of war crimes.  Further south along the river, Fort Delaware served as the primary defense of the ports of Philadelphia and Wilmington, Delaware.  The Union also maintained a large prisoner of war camp at this fort.

As troops moved through the city to the front lines, patriotic civic groups organized to provide food, drink, washing facilities, letter-writing supplies, and later medical care to the soldiers.  The Union Volunteer Refreshment Saloon, organized in 1861, followed by the Cooper Shop Volunteer Refreshment Saloon, established hospitals to care for sick and wounded soldiers.  Government-funded medical facilities, including Satterlee and Mower hospitals, supplemented these modest facilities.  In addition, the city’s Pennsylvania and St. Joseph’s hospitals cared for Union soldiers.  An 1866 report by the U.S. Sanitary Commission estimated that Philadelphia hospitals treated more than 157,000 soldiers and sailors during the Civil War.

Superintendent's Lodge

Superintendent’s Lodge (Demolished 1934)
Courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration, History Program.

Union soldiers who died in one of the numerous Philadelphia-area hospitals were interred in soldiers’ lots in ten different cemeteries throughout the city.  These lots became known collectively as the Philadelphia National Cemetery. In 1881, Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs recommended that a single national cemetery be established, because he feared that the opening of new streets through the city’s cemeteries would disturb the graves of the Union dead.  Under special authority from Congress, the military acquired 13.3 acres in 1885 to re-establish the Philadelphia National Cemetery at a single location.  Shortly after the purchase of the property, remains were removed from the various soldiers’ lots and reinterred in the new site located roughly 20 miles north of downtown Philadelphia.  During the 1890s, the military transferred remains from Machpelah Cemetery and the Fort Mifflin Post Cemetery to the new cemetery.

The layout of the Philadelphia National Cemetery is different from the other national cemeteries of this era.  Rather than a formal regimented site plan, the Philadelphia National Cemetery is evocative of a natural park environment, influenced primarily by the landscape designs of Frederick Law Olmstead.  Roads curve around the cemetery’s property, highlighting trees planted in natural groupings.  The cemetery is bounded by a low ashlar stone wall topped by wrought-iron fencing, built around 1885.

Constructed in 1940, the cemetery’s main gate at the corner of Haines St. and Limekiln Pike  replaced an older one that was too narrow for vehicular traffic.  Four-foot-wide pedestrian gates flank the vehicular gate. The materials and design of the gate mimic the perimeter wall with ashlar stone piers and wrought-iron fencing.

Mexican American War Monument
Mexican-American War Monument
Courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration, History Program.

Only two buildings are on the cemetery property, a utility/storage/restroom facility built in 1936 and a rostrum constructed in 1939.  The rostrum, a raised speaking platform, features a semi-circular ashlar stone base from which Doric columns rise to support a flat roof.  The Classical Revival styling is common to rostrums constructed in national cemeteries during the Great Depression.

The cemetery contains two major commemorative monuments.  The largest, standing 20-feet tall, is a three-sided, intricately detailed, marble pedestal surmounted by an eagle commemorating the lives of 169 soldiers of the Mexican-American War.  The soldiers, originally buried at Glenwood Cemetery, were reinterred in the Philadelphia National Cemetery in 1927.  In 1911, the U.S. government erected the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the cemetery’s Confederate section. The rusticated granite block monument commemorates 184 Confederate men whose remains were reinterred in the cemetery, but were not individually marked. The lot is defined by stone corner markers engraved with the letter “C”. Nearby is a flat stone memorial erected by the General Dabney H. Maury Chapter U.D.C several years prior to the government monument; it is dedicated to the 224 Confederate soldiers who died in the Philadelphia area during the course of the Civil War.

Another memorial marker honors the American patriots of the Battle of Germantown, a 1777 engagement from the Revolutionary War that occurred close to the present site of the national cemetery.  In 1928, the citizens of Germantown erected the granite boulder with bronze plaque describing the conflict.

Philadelphia National Cemetery is the final resting place for Medal of Honor recipients, 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.”

Plan your visit

Philadelphia National Cemetery is located at the intersection of Haines St. and Limekiln Pike in Philadelphia, PA.  The cemetery is open for visitation daily from 8:00am to sunset; however, no cemetery staff is present on site.  The administrative office is located at the Washington Crossing National Cemetery in Newtown, PA, and is open Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 4:00pm; it is closed on all Federal holidays except for Memorial Day and Veterans Day.  For more information, please contact the cemetery office at 215-504-5610, or see the Department of Veterans Affairs website.  While visiting, be mindful that our national cemeteries are hallowed ground. Be respectful to all of our nation’s fallen soldiers and their families.  Additional cemetery policies may be posted on site.

Philadelphia National Cemetery was photographed to the standards established by the National Park Service’s Historic American Landscapes Survey.

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