When one thinks of a national cemetery, Mound City National Cemetery does not come to mind. Instead, images of Arlington National Cemetery, with its row upon row of gleaming white tombstones are what most people visualize. The two are not so different.
Established in 1864 as a result of the Act of July 17, 1862 which authorized President Abraham Lincoln “to purchase grounds…to be used as a National cemetery for soldiers who shall have died in the service of their country.” Mound City National Cemetery was one of 12 such cemeteries.
Southern Illinois was not part of the combat theater of the Civil War. The location of Cairo, Mound City and several other communities at the tip of Illinois and at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, made them strategic locations however. Men, supplies and ammunition were staged and dispatched from here. Iron-clad gunboats were built at the Mound City Marine Ways and Shipyard.
As the body counts and casualties climbed ever higher, several of these cities found themselves providing hospital care for the wounded. Both Mound City and Cairo were home to large army hospitals. In fact, the one in Mound City was the largest hospital in the west.
It was because of these two large hospitals that one of the national cemeteries was designated to be built in Mound City. The Mound City hospital could attend to between 100 and 1500 patients at a time. Large numbers of casualties were brought here following the battles at Fort Donelson in 1862 and later that year at Shiloh.
Initial counts indicate the cemetery held more than 1600 interred souls in 1869. Recovered remains that were found along the Cache, Ohio and Mississippi rivers were reinterred here swelling the total by the end of 1869 to over 4800. More 2400 of these buried as unknowns as they could not be identified.
The center of the cemetery is adorned by a monument erected in 1874 to commemorate the soldiers and sailors from Illinois. The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. The structure that once served as the Mound City National Cemetery caretaker’s house has been repurposed as a visitor’s center. It houses a great many Civil War artifacts.
Check out this slideshow for the sights of Alexander County where the Mound City National Cemetery is located. For more on the history of this region, read Ohio River Scenic Byway stop 7: Alexander County.
Sources: Personal visit,