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Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served
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.
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.