History of the Cemetery
The wounds of the Civil War, physical and emotional, lay wide open on February 22, 1867, when Congress passed the National Cemetery Act. The concern with burying the war dead – Union and Confederate alike – began almost immediately after the first soldier was killed. However, this Act of Congress, coming less than two years after the close of the war, was needed to secure the graves of the fallen from desecration. The Fredericksburg National Cemetery was established as one the final resting places for soldiers of the Union Army who served the United States during a time of domestic upheaval.
Through the diligence of Brevet Major Hiram F. Gerrish, the remains of more than 8,000 Union servicemen were located throughout the Fredericksburg area. Beginning in May of 1866, these men were identified, if possible, and reinterned in Fredericksburg National Cemetery. The soldiers, ranging from young to old, in rank from private to colonel, came from the states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin. They served in the cavalry, infantry, and artillery.
Not all the people buried here were casualties of the Civil War. Some veterans of the Civil War who died later in life are buried here and the cemetery also includes those who fell in later wars. One such example is that of Private Daniel Boutchyard. His entry in the register reads: “Co.E, 11 U.S. Died 5 Nov., 1918. Killed in France. Buried here Sept., 1921 (FVC).” A few sailors are also buried here, including Charles Edward Alsop. His register entry notes, “U.S. Navy Died 28 Sept. 1930. African-American.” While many of the soldiers are named, and some entries include illuminating information about the individual, of the more than 15,000 servicemen buried here more than 12,000 remain unidentified.
It is important to note that not only veterans are buried in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery. Many wives of servicemen are also buried here, including Mrs. Thomas B. (Clara) Robinson, wife of Union soldier Thomas B. Robinson who served with the 10th and 15th Illinois Cavalries. Robinson became the cemetery’s superintendent in 1914 and when Mrs. Robinson died on August 4, 1917, she was buried in grave number 6665 per her husband’s request. Robinson died September 25, 1922 and was laid to rest in grave number 6666 next to his wife.
At this point, very little historical research has been conducted on the register itself. The National Park Service confirms that the register’s creation was after 1866. However, it is unclear as to whether the names of the soldiers were entered in to the register at the time of burial in the Fredericksburg National Cemetery or later.