View of wooden markers at Dayton National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers cemetery, now Dayton National Cemetery; Entrance to Alexandria (VA) National Cemetery, circa 1865; Rostrum, circa 1890, Loudon Park National Cemetery
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Civil War Era National Cemeteries: Honoring Those Who Served

Yorktown National Cemetery

Yorktown, Virginia

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

Yorktown National Cemetery, in Yorktown, Virginia, is the final resting place for more than 2,000 Civil War soldiers, many of them casualties of the 1862 Peninsula Campaign. Yorktown is most famous as the site of the last major battle of the Revolutionary War where British General Cornwallis and his army surrendered to the Americans, securing the new nation’s independence.  However, its strategic location on the Virginia Peninsula also made it key to the military strategies of both the Union and Confederacy during the Civil War.  Yorktown National Cemetery is one of 14 national cemeteries managed by the National Park Service.  Today the cemetery is part of the National Park Service’s Yorktown Battlefield, within the Colonial National Historic Park.

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln was determined to take the Confederate capital of Richmond.  Major General George B. McClellan convinced Lincoln that a march up the Virginia Peninsula, from Fort Monroe to Richmond, was the best route.  Fort Monroe, at the easternmost tip of the peninsula, remained under Union control, providing a secure base of operations.  The James and York Rivers on either side of the peninsula allowed for naval vessels to support the operations.

In April, Major General McClellan arrived at Fort Monroe with a force 100,000 strong.  His first move was to lay siege to Yorktown, about 20 miles up the peninsula from Fort Monroe.  A major component of the Union attack consisted of 101 siege guns, then the largest concentration of artillery in history.  On May 4, Confederate troops, led by Major General James Longstreet, abandoned Yorktown and withdrew up the peninsula.  That afternoon, they engaged in battle at Williamsburg.  The Battle of Williamsburg cost the Confederates 1,600 casualties and the Union 2,300, but Longstreet was able to delay the Union troops' march toward Richmond.  Richmond remained in Confederate hands and Yorktown remained in Union hands for the remainder of the war.  Yorktown served as an important staging ground for the Second Peninsula Campaign in 1863 and the Bermuda Hundred Campaign in 1864.

In 1866, Yorktown was selected for the location of a national cemetery based on its proximity to several Civil War battles.  Among the first burials were reinterments of approximately 600 Union soldiers killed during the Peninsula Campaign who were first buried near the siege lines.  Today the cemetery has 1,596 marked graves, which contain the remains of 2,204 soldiers, of which only 747 are known.  Ten Confederate soldiers are buried in the national cemetery, as are at least 11 African American soldiers who served as members of the United States Colored Troops.  Other remains here were relocated from Williamsburg and more than two dozen other sites within a 50-mile radius.  A small Confederate cemetery is also located nearby.

Superintendent's Lodge
Courtesy of the Department of Veterans Affairs, National Cemetery Administration, History Program
The national cemetery is roughly square, covering 2.7 acres, and is enclosed by a four-foot tall brick wall on all sides.  The main entrance located in the center of the western wall has a double-wrought iron gate flanked by pedestrian gates on either side.  Another pedestrian gate is at the northwest corner of the site near the parking lot, and a service entrance is at the southwest corner.  Unpaved walkways divide the cemetery into four burial sections, and at the intersection of the walkways in the center of the grounds is a circular reservation dotted with artillery cannons.

The superintendent’s lodge, located just inside the main entrance, was designed by U. S. Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs and features the distinctive mansard roof common to the Second Empire style.  The only other structures onsite include a flagpole on the western edge of the northwest burial section and a utility building at the southwest corner of the cemetery.

One of the best-known soldiers buried at Yorktown National Cemetery is Private William Scott, often referred to as the “Sleeping Sentinel.”  In August 1861, Scott was found asleep at his post while on picket duty.  He was then court-martialed and sentenced to death, the first death sentence given in the Army of the Potomac, but President Lincoln pardoned him, citing his “previous good conduct” and “general good character.”  After his pardon, Scott continued to serve dutifully before he was killed in action at the Battle of Williamsburg in 1862.  Scott is buried in Grave 351.
Plan your visit

Yorktown National Cemetery is located at the northeast corner of Virginia State Rte. 704 and Union Road, approximately 0.7 miles south of Yorktown, VA.  The cemetery is part of the Yorktown Battlefield, site of the last major Revolutionary War battle, at Colonial National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park Service.  The cemetery is open for visitation from sunrise to sunset, and is closed on New Years Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.  For more information, please contact the Colonial National Historic Park office at 757-898-2410, or see the National Park Service 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.

Colonial National Historic Park also includes Historic Jamestowne, the first successful English colony in the New World, Colonial Parkway, a 23-mile national scenic byway across the Virginia Peninsula, and the Cape Henry Memorial, which marks the landing point of the Jamestowne colonists.  The James and York Rivers surrounding the Virginia Peninsula are included in the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, the first national water trail, which traces Smith's explorations throughout the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

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