Antietam National Cemetery

graves with trees fall season
Leaves fall among the graves at Antietam National Cemetery

NPS Antietam

Quick Facts
Sharpsburg, MD
Final resting place of 4,776 Union troops killed at the Battle of Antietam and elsewhere in Maryland
National Park, National Register of Historic Places, HABS/HAER/HALS

Historical/Interpretive Information/Exhibits, Restroom - Seasonal

In the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam, burial details worked with great speed, if not care, to inter the 4,000 or more Union and Confederate dead from the battle. Mass graves and shallow individual burials were not uncommon and by 1864, many of the graves had become exposed. A suitable, permanent solution was necessary. To that end, Maryland State Senator Lewis P. Firey spearheaded a plan in which the state of Maryland purchased a little more than 11 acres of land for the establishment a cemetery for the men who died in the Maryland Campaign.

In an effort to locate grave sites and identify the occupants, two men, Aaron Good and Joseph Gill, proved invaluable. In the days, months, and years following the battle, they freely gave of their time and gathered a large number of names and burial locations using letters, receipts, diaries, photographs, marks on belts or cartridge boxes, and by interviewing relatives and survivors.

Meanwhile, contributions totaling over $70,000 were submitted from 18 Northern states to the administrators of the Antietam National Cemetery Board. With a workforce consisting primarily of honorably discharged soldiers, the process of removing bodies from the farms and fields began in October 1866 and was complete by August 1867. In all, the Antietam National Cemetery became the final resting place for the remains of 4,776 Union soldiers killed in the Battles of Antietam, South Mountain, Monocacy and other action in Maryland. The identities of only 38% of the burials are known.

Although the original plan allowed for burial of soldiers from both sides, the rancor and bitterness over the recently completed conflict and the devastated South's inability to raise funds to join in such a venture persuaded Maryland to recant. Consequently, only Union dead are interred here. Confederate remains were re-interred in Washington Confederate Cemetery in Hagerstown, Maryland; Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Frederick, Maryland; and Elmwood Cemetery in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Approximately 2,800 Southerners are buried in these three cemeteries, over 60% of who are unknown.

On September 17, 1867, the fifth anniversary of the battle, the cemetery was dedicated before a crowd numbering in the thousands, including President Andrew Johnson, four members of his Cabinet, and the governors of the 18 states whose solders are buried in the cemetery. In his brief remarks, President Johnson proclaimed, "When we look on yon battle field I think of the brave men on both sides, who fell in the fierce struggle of battle, who sleep silent in their graves...Would to God we of the living could imitate their example, as they lay sleeping in peace in their tombs, and live together in friendship and peace."
Click here to access the cemetery roster.

Antietam National Battlefield

Open Transcript 


Hello, my name is Park Ranger Keith Snyder and we've made it to the last stop on our Virtual Tour, Tour Stop 10, Antietam National Cemetery. Buried within these stone walls are 5000 American servicemen and women who serve their country. Some fought and died on the fields that surround the town of Sharpsburg during the Civil War. Others served in far off lands and later American wars. All were veterans who earned the right by their service to their country to be buried in a National Cemetery. The Battle of Antietam was fought September 17, 1862. It was the single bloodiest day in American history.

At the end of the battle, more than 23,000 men were killed, wounded or listed as missing. Approximately 4000 soldiers were killed that day, and in the weeks that followed, many more died of wounds or disease. The peaceful village of Sharpsburg turned into one vast hospital and burial ground, extending for miles in every direction. Union soldiers buried all the bodies, performing their grisly task with speed, but often without great care. Graves range from single burials to long, shallow trenches, which held dozens. The burial parties used everything from stone piles to Wooden Crosses and headboards to mark the dead. By March of 1864, no effort had been made to find a suitable final resting place for those buried in the fields surrounding the town.

Many graves have become exposed. Something had to be done about this horrible eyesore and the potential health hazard. The state of Maryland purchased the land for the cemetery in 1865. The Cemetery Association was formed and the work began to locate the temporary graves of the soldiers on the battlefield and reinter them in the new cemetery. The local paper said quote the remains are placed in substantial coffins and delivered to Doctor Biggs, the president of the Cemetery Association, who buries them in their proper lots. In raising the dead, every grave is carefully examined and a strict search is made for relics which may in any manner serve to identify the remains. So far, about 2/3 have been fully recognized.

The original legislation called for the burial of both Union and Confederate dead. But the bitterness from the recent conflict and the lack of funds provided by the states of the formal Confederacy Union and Union only are buried here. Confederate soldiers are buried in three local cemeteries in Hagerstown and Frederick, MD, and Shepherdstown, WV.

On September 17, 1867, the 5th anniversary of the battle, the cemetery was ready for the dedication ceremonies. The event was important enough that President Andrew Johnson attended. At that dedication, President Andrew Johnson stood on the rostrum, looked out to those that had gathered, and said, “When we look upon the battlefield, I think of the brave men who fell in the fierce struggle of battle and who sleep silent in their graves. Yes, many of them sleep in silence in peace within this beautiful enclosure.”

These stone walls surround the remains of 4776 Union soldiers from the Battle of Antietam and other battles in the region, 1800 of which are unknown. In addition to those removed from the battlefield, remains were brought here from 33 locations in 120-mile radius, 19 Union states are represented.

As an active National Cemetery for over 80 years service men and women were buried here from the Spanish American War. The Boxer Rebellion, World War 1, World War 2 and the Korean conflict. The cemetery closed in 1953. There are 250 8 post-civil War graves.

In 1880, the private Soldier Monument was dedicated as the centerpiece of the cemetery. The colossal granite statue reaches Skyward, 44 feet, weighs 250 tons, as made of 27 pieces sculpted by James Poletto of Westerly, RI, for a cost of over 32,000. The private soldier first stood at the gateway of the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, PA in 1876 where 10 million people viewed what was described as absolutely satisfactory as a specimen of skillful modeling.

The monument was disassembled again for the long journey to Sharpsburg on September 17th, 1880. The statue was finally in place where it was formally dedicated, the local paper said that 8000 people came out for the dedication. Robert Kennedy, a veteran of the battle, spoke to the crowd. Quote, “the men who fought these battles and won. These victories were the private soldiers of the Republic. Standing on this hilltop in the midst of the National Cemetery and overlooking this great battlefield of Antietam, is a heroic figure carved in granite, representing the private soldier of the Republic. Leaning upon his arms at rest after the battle. It was the private soldier who stood between this nation and its destruction. It was the private soldier whose courage and devotion on these fields of blood and carnage upheld the glory of the country and forever preserved its unity. Let him be carved and granted as indestructible, as the everlasting hills, and let it stand as a witness to the valor and devotion of the men who came from the quiet homes of the country. Determined that a nation dedicated to the liberties of the human race should not perish from the Earth.”

The keynote address that day was delivered by Marriott Brosius, A congressman from Pennsylvania. He looked out to the crowd and said, “Whatever we may say of the heroes who sacred dust reposes beneath these mounds guarded for all time by the nations, imperishable gratitude symbolized in the sculptured Sentinel that stands above them. All our speech will be outweighed by their speechlessness. They are their best orders today, for being dead, they yet speak.”

For over 150 years, these 11 acres have stood as reminder of the terrible loss at the Battle of Antietam. The bloodiest single day battle in American military history. The greatest outcome did not happen on the fields that surround Sharpsburg. Five days after the battle, President Abraham Lincoln issues the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. That document will change the course of the war and change the nation.

Now the American Civil War is not just about reunification. It is about freedom for four and a half million Americans. We hope that someday you can visit Antietam National Battlefield and if you do take the time to visit the National Cemetery, walk through the iron gates. Stroll the grounds, listen and remember the heroes that surround us.

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7 minutes, 16 seconds

National Cemetery Tour Stop 10

Last updated: April 5, 2024