Burials at Poplar Grove National Cemetery


The inadequacy of the US Army’s burial system would become clear once the Civil War started. Congress addressed this problem in July 1862. They passed legislation giving the president authority to buy land to establish National Cemeteries. The primary factor for determining the location of a National Cemetery was the proximity to a significant battle. During the siege, Union soldiers killed in battle were buried near where the fighting occurred. Some were buried in single shallow pits, others in mass graves. Identification was as simple as a name carved on a wooden headboard if there was time to leave even that. Some units, like the IX Corps, had small cemeteries near their field hospitals for soldiers who had died while in their care. On April 17, 1866, Lt. Colonel James M. Moore began to survey the Petersburg area for a place to locate a permanent national cemetery. He chose a farm just south of the city. This tract of land had been the campground for the 50th New York Volunteer Engineers. They constructed a gothic-style pine log church called Poplar Grove during the war. The church was dismantled in April of 1868, and the area where it stood was used for more graves.

With a cemetery location now established, the “burial corps” was assembled. They began searching and recovering the scattered graves throughout the many battlefields. The search for burials not only included the battlefields around Petersburg. The corps traveled as far west as Appomattox and Lynchburg to move bodies for a proper burial. From July 1866 through June 1869, disinterring continued until the remains of 6,141 men were placed in Poplar Grove Cemetery. Sadly, only 2,126 of these were positively identified. During the Civil War, the army provided no standard way for soldiers to carry their identification into combat. Some soldiers pinned their name and unit on paper or cloth in their uniforms. What we know today is a dog tag would not become standard issue for military personnel until the United States entered World War One in 1917.


Known Burials

Known Burials
SectionPlotLast NameFirst NameRankCompanyRegimentStateUnit Type & BranchDate of DeathOriginal Burial Location

Unknown Burials

Why have a listing of unknown burials? While we may not know the names of the soldiers. We know where most were originally buried. For some, we know what unit they were in, and those who have an * next to their branch served in the USCT.
Unknown Burials
SectionPlotNameNumber of BurialsCompanyRankRegtimentStateUnit Type & BranchDate of DeathOriginal Burial Location

Last updated: October 28, 2023

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Petersburg National Battlefield Administration Office
1539 Hickory Hill Road

Petersburg, VA 23803


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