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Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served
Salem, New Jersey
Finn’s Point National Cemetery, in Salem, New Jersey, stands on the eastern bank of the Delaware River. Originally a burial ground for Confederate prisoners of war and their 135 Union guards, the site became a national cemetery in 1875. The cemetery now contains monuments to both Union and Confederate soldiers. Today, the cemetery is located adjacent to both Fort Mott State Park and a national wildlife refuge, and provides a peaceful final resting place for numerous Civil War veterans and their fallen comrades of later conflicts.
The U.S. government purchased the 104 acres at Finn’s Point in 1837 with the goal of establishing a defensive battery supporting two nearby forts; Fort Delaware, located on Pea Patch Island in the middle of the Delaware River, and Fort Dupont, on the Delaware River’s western bank, in Delaware. When the Civil War began, Finn’s Point still did not have any permanent fortifications.
Several years prior to the Civil War, the Federal Government constructed the massive defensive battery on Pea Patch Island to protect the ports of Wilmington and Philadelphia. During the war, Fort Delaware served as a prisoner-of-war camp. More than 22,000 prisoners and Union officers and troops occupied the island when the prison closed in 1866. Malnutrition and disease were commonplace in Civil War-era prisoner of war camps, and nearly 2,500 prisoners died while held captive at Fort Delaware. Initially, the dead were buried on the island, but as the number of fatalities grew, a new two-acre burial site was chosen at Finn’s Point. After this, the remains of the prisoners were ferried across to Finn’s Point for burial. After the war, the early burials on the island were transferred to Finn’s Point, which was officially established as a national cemetery in 1875.
South of the cemetery on Finn’s Point, construction began on a defensive battery during the 1870s. In 1896, on the eve of the Spanish-American War, the fortification was named after Gershon Mott, a New Jersey resident and Civil War Brigadier General. The U.S. Army maintained a presence at Fort Mott until 1943. The state of New Jersey acquired the abandoned fort and established the Fort Mott State Park in 1951.
Entry into Finn’s Point National Cemetery is gained through the Fort Mott State Park’s main gate. The main avenue splits on either side of a large grassy island before coming together at the northeast end of the cemetery. Located on the island are the cemetery’s flagpole and Memorial section. An 1877 superintendent’s lodge and a utility building are located at the end of the avenue. A stone wall encloses the cemetery.
Shortly after the establishment of Finn’s Point National Cemetery, a Union monument was erected in the cemetery’s southeast corner to honor the 135 Union guards who died while stationed at the Fort Delaware prison camp. The monument is a simple, marble pedestal topped by an urn. Engraved on the four sides of the pedestal are names of the Union guards who died at Fort Delaware. Later, a cast-stone round Greek temple featuring six tapered columns with simple capitals supporting an entablature capped with a shallow dome was constructed. The pedestal monument is now at the center of the temple-like structure.
The Federal Government erected the Confederate Monument in 1910 to memorialize the 2,436 Confederate prisoners who died at Fort Delaware. The 85-foot-tall granite obelisk sits on a low mound and features a bronze dedication plaque and panels listing the names of the prisoners. More bronze panels are set into the earthen mound on all four sides. The Confederate Monument is similar to ones erected at North Alton, Illinois, and Point Lookout, Maryland, sites of other prisoner of war camps.
The cemetery also contains interments of veterans from later wars, including World War II. Near the Confederate section in the cemetery’s northwest corner lie 13 German prisoners of war, who died while held at nearby Fort Dix during World War II.