Detail of gate post at Alexandria (VA) National Cemetery; Rows of unknown graves at Memphis National Cemetery; Directional sign post to Fort Gibson National Cemetery
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Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served

Barrancas National Cemetery

Pensacola, Florida

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

Barrancas National Cemetery is located on the grounds of the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, and traces its history to three 19th century forts that once guarded the entry to one of the best natural harbors in the Gulf of Mexico--Pensacola Bay.  Today, Barrancas National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 36,000 military veterans, including several Medal of Honor recipients.  While most of the cemetery graves are laid out in uniform rows, a section of burials remains from the early 1800s predates the establishment of the national cemetery by more than 50 years.

Three forts defended Pensacola Bay: Fort McRee (also spelled McRae) on the eastern tip of Perdido Key, Fort Pickens on the western tip of Santa Rosa Island, and Fort Barrancas on the mainland.  Following Florida’s secession from the United States in January 1861, Union forces withdrew from Forts McRee and Barrancas and consolidated their troops at Fort Pickens. 

In order for the Confederacy to control the strategically important Pensacola Bay, they needed to take control of Fort Pickens.  Throughout 1861, minor skirmishes occurred in the area, including the Union sinking of the Confederate schooner Judah. The Judah arrived at the Pensacola Navy Yard from Canada with a load of mercury, tin, and lead.  A few weeks later, Confederate General Dick Anderson set out to take Fort Pickens, but when his forces surprised an outlying Union camp, they alerted the fort to the impending attack.  Anderson adopted a defensive position to entice the Union troops to leave the fort, but instead, forces at Fort Pickens launched a mortar attack.  The Confederates retreated to the mainland, never seriously threatening Fort Pickens again.  The City of Pensacola surrendered to Union forces in May 1862.

The cemetery at Fort Barrancas began as a small post cemetery meant for those and their families who lived and worked at the U.S. Navy Yard Pensacola.  Burials from this time period were located in the southeast corner of the original cemetery, and were mostly made up of naval personnel. With the onset of the Civil War, the cemetery expanded to the north and west to accept the remains of soldiers killed in action. 

In 1868, the site was officially designated as Barrancas National Cemetery; many of the earliest burials were interments of soldiers who died at the Battles of Pensacola, Bayou Chico, Gunboat Point, Santa Rosa Island, East Pass, Apalachicola, San Juan Island, and Saint Andrew’s Bay.  The double-iron gate at the main entrance, at the southern edge of the cemetery, dates to 1868, and the nearby pedestrian gate dates to 1936.  A portion of the original brick wall enclosing the cemetery remains along the site’s western boundary, though wrought-iron fencing replaced the wall in other areas.  A service building added in 1949 and the administration building built in 1976 are the other major structures on site.

Civilian Section
Civilian Section, Barrancas National Cemetery
Courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration, History Program

The cemetery was originally rectangular in plan, with a central avenue running north from the main entrance. Its intersection with a shorter cross avenue marked the location of the flagpole and divided the original cemetery into four quadrants, each of which was subdivided into six plats by grassy walkways. 

During the 1940s and 50s the cemetery was expanded to the north and northeast, surrounding and including a civilian cemetery that abutted the north wall. Easily recognizable from the large number of private headstones, today the civilian cemetery is further defined by a low hedge that encloses it. Burials in the civilian cemetery include men, women, and children who lived in the surrounding towns of Warrington and Woolsey, with the first burials dating to the early 1800s.  As the naval base expanded in the early 20th century, burials from several small town cemeteries were consolidated into a single cemetery adjacent to the national one.

The site was expanded to the northwest in 1986 and again in 2002, when the cemetery acquired property on the north side of Taylor Road; the latter section contains the newest burials along with a committal shelter.

Inside the main entrance are two upright seacoast artillery guns, each topped with a white-painted cannonball.  Affixed to one of the guns is a bronze shield with the cemetery’s name, date of establishment, and number of known and unknown interments.  To the west of the artillery is the U.S. Marine Guard Monument, dedicated on March 15, 1884 to eight soldiers who died during the 1883 outbreak of yellow fever at the post.  The monument consists of a “white bronze” (zinc) shaft approximately 12 feet tall with raised inscriptions and ornamentation.

Barrancas National Cemetery is the final resting place of three 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.”

Other notable persons include Admiral John Walter Reeves, Jr., recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal as the Task Group Commander of the North Pacific Force during World War II.  Later he was awarded the Legion of Merit with Combat “V” and a Gold Star in lieu of a second Distinguished Service Medal for his leadership against Japanese forces at Truk Atoll.  Admiral Reeves also served as the Chief of Naval Basic Training at Pensacola; he is buried in Section 26, Grave 814.

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

Barrancas National Cemetery is also the final resting place for Ga-Ah, the second wife of Apache Chief Geronimo.  Geronimo surrendered to U.S. forces in 1883 after a series of raids in the United States and Mexico, but later escaped.  Recaptured in 1886, he, his wife, and a group of his followers were held at Fort Pickens before finally being moved to Mount Vernon Barracks north of Mobile, Alabama.  Ga-Ah contracted pneumonia at Fort Pickens and died on September 28, 1887; she is buried in Section 18, Grave 1496.

Seventy-two Confederate soldiers (52 known and 20 unknown) are interred here, as well as 55 casualties of the Second Seminole War.  Victims of a 1930 outbreak of malaria and yellow fever—including many soldiers' children stationed at Fort Barrancas—are buried in Sections 23 and 25. 

Seven crew members of a C-130 Hercules from the Air Commando Unit at Hulbert Field Air Force Base in Florida, downed in 1990 during the Persian Gulf War, are buried in Section 38, as are two crew members of a C-130 from the Special Operations Wing at Hulbert Field that crashed in Kenya in support of military operations in Somalia in 1994.  Two victims of the June 25, 1996 terrorist bombing of the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, Joseph Edward Rimkus and Joshua Woody, are interred in Section 40.

Plan your visit

Barrancas National Cemetery is located on the grounds of the Pensacola Naval Air Station at 1 Cemetery Rd., in Pensacola, FL.  The cemetery is open for visitation daily from sunrise to sunset; the administrative office is open Monday-Friday from 7:00am to 4:30pm, and is closed on all Federal holidays except for Memorial Day.  For more information please contact the cemetery office at 850-453-4108, or see the Department of Veterans Affairs website.  While visiting, please 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.

The sites of Fort Barrancas, Fort McRee, and Fort Pickens are located within the National Park Service’s Gulf Islands National Seashore.  The Civil War conflicts in and around Pensacola Bay are the subject of an online lesson plan, Fort Pickens and the Outbreak of the Civil War.  The lesson plan has been 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.

Barrancas National Cemetery was photographed to the standards established by the National Park Service’s Historic American Landscapes Survey.  The superintendent’s lodge at Barrancas National Cemetery was documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Building Survey, as have several related sites including the U.S. Naval Air Station, the Bateria de San Antonio, and Fort Barrancas.
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