Union soldier figure atop monument at Baxter Springs National Cemetery; Bivouac of the Dead plaque at Wood National Cemetery; Flagpole and graves at Togus National Cemetery
Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served

Fort McPherson National Cemetery

Maxwell, Nebraska

Statue at Fort McPherson
Statue, Fort McPherson National Cemetery
Courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration, History Program
Located on a gently rolling landscape of 20 acres, the Fort McPherson National Cemetery is the only national cemetery in the state of Nebraska.  The cemetery evolved from the post cemetery of Fort McPherson, a U.S. Army facility established to protect settlers moving west to Colorado.  The military abandoned the fort in 1880, although they retained a large tract that was dedicated as a national cemetery in 1873. Today, the cemetery is the final resting place for soldiers who fought in the Indian Wars, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, and more recent conflicts.

In October 1863, the U.S. government established a fort near Cottonwood Canyon, roughly five miles south of present-day Maxwell, Nebraska.  Soldiers stationed at this strategic location near the Platte River and the Overland Trail protected settlers moving westward to Colorado and provided security for the construction of the railroad. Originally named Fort McKean, the fort had its name changed to Fort McPherson in 1866 to honor Union General James McPherson, who died during the 1864 Battle of Atlanta.

In 1873, a national cemetery was established at the site of the fort.  The initial purpose of the cemetery was to provide an appropriate burial ground for remains of soldiers at remote, abandoned posts on the western frontier.  The military transferred remains from post cemeteries in Wyoming, Colorado, South Dakota, and Nebraska.  Early interments also included the remains of six men from Company F, 3rd U.S. Calvary. The soldiers died in May 1873, when a flash flood swept through their campsite in the Republican River Valley. 

As conflicts with Indian groups dissipated in the late 1870s, so did the need for a military presence in the area.  The U.S. military abandoned the fort in 1880, selling the fort’s buildings at local auction but retaining the national cemetery property. The cemetery today contains more than 3,700 interments. The cemetery is roughly square in shape, with a central drive bisecting the property.  Avenues within the cemetery form rectangular burial sections, providing a rigid formality for the placement of graves and grave markers.

Fort McPherson Site Map

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

The cemetery is enclosed by wrought-iron fencing with large vehicular gates supported by stone piers, all constructed in 1941. Just inside the main gate is the cemetery’s oldest building, the superintendent’s lodge.  The 1876 lodge is a one-and-a-half story brick structure designed in the Second Empire style, identifiable by its mansard roof and dormer windows.  The lodge’s design is of the standard plan created by Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs, and it is one of the 17 remaining Second Empire-style Meigs lodges found at the Civil War-era national cemeteries.  Several other buildings at the cemetery, including the committal shelter, public information building, and utility structures, date from the 1990s.

A white marble monument marks the mass grave of 28 soldiers killed in an 1854 encounter with the Sioux at Fort Laramie in the Wyoming Territory.  Commonly referred to as the Grattan Massacre, the incident is considered the starting point of hostilities between the United States and the Sioux Nation.  The hostilities ended in 1890 with the massacre at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

Fort McPherson National Cemetery is the final resting place for four 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 significant interments include 63 Buffalo soldiers from the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry.  These African American soldiers served in the West during the Indian Wars after the Civil War.  The soldiers, originally interred at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, were transferred to Fort McPherson National Cemetery in 1947 when the fort was deactivated.
Plan your visit

Fort McPherson National Cemetery is located at 12004 S Spur 56A, roughly four miles south of Maxwell, NE.  The cemetery is open for visitation daily from dawn to dusk; the administrative office is open Monday-Friday from 8:00am to 4:30pm, and is closed on all Federal holidays except for Memorial Day.  For more information, please contact the cemetery office at 308-582-4433, 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.

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

Next page
Comments or Questions

Itinerary Home | List of sites | Maps | Learn More | Credits | Other Itineraries | NR Home | Search