Grafton National Cemetery Burial Register


The history of the Grafton National Cemetery goes back to 1865 when Commander Swinton Burdett, commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) and a congressman from Iowa, toured the battlegrounds of the area and conceived the idea of having all the war dead reburied in a location accessible from all parts of the state. Burdett introduced a bill in Congress to establish a National Cemetery in northern West Virginia. The bill was approved, and the War Department ordered Major R. C. Bates to select a site. Bates decided on a site in West Grafton because it was fairly level land and because of the availability of rail service for the transportation of bodies. Also the site was near a Maple Avenue cemetery where many war dead had been buried, and it was close to the Beech Street federal military hospital.

The 3.21 acre site was purchased from the heirs of Alexander Yates with title transfer complete in 1874. Site work began in the spring of 1867. Following the completion of two terraces, the War Department sent James Fitzgerald, a Civil War veteran, to supervise the planting and seeding of trees and shrubbery. Another Civil War veteran, Edward E. Gilbert, was appointed as superintendent. Within two years 1,251 bodies of both Union and Confederate troops were exhumed and reburied in the national cemetery, under the supervision of the U. S. Burial Corps. Of the 1,251 Civil War graves, 664 are unknown with graves are marked only by number. Records in the cemetery office indicate the location from which all bodies were disinterred.

Those interred represent 32 counties of West Virginia, and originally 14 states, which has since increased to 24. Among the buried are 12 members of the famous Volunteer Regiment of the Army who adopted the dress and skill of Zouaves, a body of Infantry in the French service noted for their dash and valor. The cemetery also has the distinction of having interred the first casualty of the Civil War, Private Thornsberry Bailey Brown. A special monument was erected over his grave on the lower or first terrace of the cemetery.

The first Memorial Day exercise was scheduled for May 30, 1868 to mark the anniversary of General B. F. Kelly entering Grafton to start the opening land engagement of the Civil War. However, several days of rain postponed the exercise until Sunday, June 14. On that day, Captain Daniel Wilson aligned veterans of Company B, 2nd and 17th West Virginia, in military formation to march to the new cemetery. They were headed by a small martial band composed of Thomas Gough, fifer of the 5th Calvary, George Hammond, musician of the 12th Infantry, snare drummers Clinton Albright, Millard Carr, Henry Lippencott, and Edward W. Walters and base drummer Joseph N. Shannon. Burials had not been completed at the cemetery so the group continued to Handley's Grove for the memorial service. According to historian Charles Brinkman, "... the Honorable Jacob B. Brister was introduced as the orator to give the First Memorial Day Address. He paid a beautiful tribute to the dead, and the living, who, he said, had served their nation in its greatest crisis to keep it 'one undivided.'"

Since the burials of the Civil War veterans, there have been 833 additional burials of veterans of the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The cemetery now occupies three terraces and reached its capacity in 1961. Burial services are now offered at the West Virginia National Cemetery in Pruntytown.

Grafton National Cemetery - National Register of Historic Places


Return to the Cemetery Index