View of soldiers graves near City Point General Hospital, circa 1865; historic cemetery ID shield; Lithograph of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at Hampton National Cemetery
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Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served

Mobile National Cemetery

Mobile, Alabama

Mobile National Cemetery
Mobile National Cemetery
Courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration, History Program

Established at the end of the Civil War in 1865, Mobile National Cemetery is the final resting place for 841 Union soldiers and sailors who died in Mobile and the surrounding area. Mobile Bay was the site of one of the most decisive Union naval victories as Admiral David Farragut and his fleet fought for control of the waterway in August 1864.  The cemetery has one of the few remaining superintendent’s lodges built according to a standard plan developed by U.S. Army Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs. In addition to Civil War interments, burials include veterans from the War of 1812 and later conflicts through the Vietnam era.

During the early days of the Civil War, the Union adopted a strategy of controlling southern seaports through occupation or blockade.  Cutting off the Confederacy’s sea access limited supply lines and prevented trade with European countries. Although Union naval forces attempted to blockade the shipping traffic in and out of Mobile, blockade runners managed to slip in and out of the harbor. Outgoing vessels carried bales of southern cotton, destined for markets in Europe in exchange for hard currency.  Inbound blockade runners brought goods needed by the Confederate Army. By summer 1864, Mobile stood as the last Confederate stronghold on the Gulf of Mexico. 

To stop this trade and deliver a crushing blow to the Confederacy, a Union naval fleet under the command of Admiral Farragut converged on Mobile Bay in August 1864. Two Confederate forts, a fleet of vessels, and underwater mines called “torpedoes” protected the mouth of the bay and the city of Mobile.

Farragut’s attack on the fleet and forts commenced on the morning of August 5.  As the smoke of the battle grew thick, the admiral climbed to the top of the ship’s mast and lashed himself to it in order to command a better view. Adding to the danger, the lead vessel—the ironclad Tecumseh—hit a torpedo and sank, bringing the fleet to a precarious halt in front of the guns of Fort Morgan. The admiral gave his now-famous command, “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!”  The vessels plowed forward through the mines, pummeled Fort Morgan, and took control of Mobile Bay.

While the Union held the bay, the city remained in Confederate hands until three days after General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia in April 1865.  Upon entering the city, the Union Army needed a burial space for fallen soldiers, and began interments in the city-owned Magnolia Cemetery. The city later donated a three-acre portion of the cemetery, which was established as Mobile National Cemetery.

The initial interments were fallen Union soldiers from surrounding military sites and forts.  Eventually, Mobile National Cemetery became the final resting place for 841 Civil War dead.  The remains of War of 1812 veterans, originally buried in nearby cemeteries, were also transferred to the national cemetery.  The cemetery remained open for burials through the Vietnam War period.

1893 Site Plan

1893 Site Plan of Mobile National Cemetery.
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
(click on image to enlarge)

In 1868, the construction of a brick wall replaced an older wooden picket fence along the cemetery’s  perimeter.  Around 1880, a brick superintendent’s lodge replaced an earlier wooden lodge.  The 1 ½-story brick lodge is designed in the Second Empire style, notable by its mansard roof and dormer windows.  The lodge’s design follows the standard plan by U.S. Army Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs.  It is one of the few remaining Meigs’ lodges found at the Civil War-era national cemeteries. The cemetery’s rostrum, located at the center of the property, is octagonal in design and constructed of brick. An iron railing stands along the perimeter.  Originally the rostrum featured a pagoda roof, supported by wrought-iron columns and richly decorated with wrought-iron fretwork.

Northeast of the lodge is a monument dedicated to the fallen Union soldiers of the 76th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The regiment’s survivors of the Battle of Port Blakely erected the Vermont marble monument in 1892.

Today Mobile National Cemetery is composed of two parts: the original three-acre site and a second parcel diagonally southeast. The second parcel, purchased for expansion purposes in 1936, is slightly larger than the original and contains a remnant of a Confederate fortification. In 1940, the United Daughters of the Confederacy installed a monument to mark the remains of the fortification.

Mobile National Cemetery is 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.”

Another notable burial in the cemetery is Chappo, the son of Apache Chief Geronimo.  Chappo died while being held prisoner, along with his father and family, at the Mount Vernon Barracks north of Mobile.
Plan your visit

Mobile National Cemetery is located at 1202 Virginia St. in Mobile, AL.  The cemetery is open for visitation daily from sunrise to sunset; however, no cemetery staff is present on site.  The administrative office is located at the Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola, FL, and is open Monday-Friday from 7:00am to 4:30pm; it is closed on all federal holidays except Memorial Day.  For more information, please contact the cemetery office at 850-453-4108, or see the Department of Veterans Affairs website.  While visiting, be mindful that our national cemeteries are hallowed ground and be respectful to all of our nation’s fallen soldiers and their families.  Additional cemetery policies may be posted on site.

The Battle of Mobile Bay is featured in an online lesson plan, Fort Morgan and the Battle of Mobile Bay.  The lesson plan is produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.

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

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