Hallowed Ground: Celebrating the history of Nashville National Cemetery

Weekend Extra

The Nashville National Cemetery is one of 11 veteran cemeteries across the state. However, it’s the only national veteran cemetery in Middle Tennessee. 

The 65.5-acre historic site is located approximately six miles from downtown off Gallatin Road in Madison. It is divided into almost-equal halves by the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. 

As of Oct. 1997, the cemetery housed 33,258 internments, including 12,769 Civil War-era soldiers and 4,131 unknown soldiers. 

The “hallowed ground” was set aside for a U.S. Military Cemetery on Jan. 28, 1867. A few years later in 1870, the stone wall around the perimeter and the limestone archway marking the front entrance were constructed. Other notable structures around the property, like the outbuilding and speaker’s rostrum, were completed in 1940. The site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.

Most of the 16,489 soldiers and known employees interred at the Nashville National Cemetery were not buried there originally and moved from 251 other sites across Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky. Another large portion of the veterans resting there was transferred from hospital cemeteries around the city of Nashville and graveyards near Civil War battle sites in Franklin and Gallatin, Tenn., and Bowling Green and Cave City, Ky. 

Among the thousands buried at the cemetery, more than 4,000 of the soldiers’ identities remain unknown to this day. According to historians, this is due to the fact that, if marked at all, original grave sites locations made during the Civil War were marked with wooden headstones that quickly deteriorated in the elements. 

However, the 12,769 identified remains are listed in a database by name, and each listing includes burial location/grave number, date of death and rank. To search the database, click here. You can find more specific help with genealogical research on the Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System

While there are too many men and women decorated for their bravery in combat to list, notable burials at the Nashville National Cemetery include three Medal of Honor recipients: 

  • Corporal Jon Carr, who served in the U.S. Army, Company G, 8th U.S. Cavalry,  during the Indian Wars, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service in the Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona Territory, on Oct. 29, 1869. Carr died in 1891 and is buried in Section KK, Site 16550.
  • Private Charles P. Cantrell received the distinguished honor for his service in the U.S. Army, Company F, 10th U.S. Infantry, for actions at Santiago, Cuba, on July 1, 1898, during the Spanish-American War. Cantrell died in 1948 and is buried in Section 1, Site 132.
  • Lastly, Corporal William Frank Lyell was awarded a Medal of Honor after the Korean War for his service in the U.S. Army, Company F, 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, and specifically his “gallantry and self-sacrifice” on Aug. 31, 1951, near Chup’a-ri, Korea. He is buried in Section 1, Site 151. 

Erastus Milo Cravath, Civil Rights leader and founder of Fisk University and other historically black colleges in Tennessee and Georgia, is also buried at the Nashville National Cemetery. Before dedicating his life to the education of African Americans, Cravath served in the Union Army as a chaplain for the 101st Ohio Infantry. He later served as president of Fisk University for 25 years and co-founded the Fisk Jubilee Singers. He is buried in Section MM, Site 16694.

The cemetery is now closed, like many of the veteran burial sites established around the time of the Civil War, but some exceptions can be made for cremated remains or casketed remains placed in the same gravesite as previously interred family members.

For burial inquires, fax all discharge documentation to the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 1-866-900-6417 and follow-up with a phone call to 1-800-535-1117.

The cemetery is open during daylight, and special services will be held there on Memorial Day. 

If you would like to place flowers or other items on graves, please note: 

  • Cemetery staff will decorate all graves prior to Memorial Day with small flags. These flags will be removed immediately after Memorial Day and are not permitted on graves at any other time. 
  • Fresh cut and artificial flowers can be placed on gravemarkers at any time but will be removed by groundskeepers if they become unsightly or interfere with cemetery operations. 
  • It is suggested that artificial arrangements be marked so the donor can later be identified, if needed. Wind sometimes moves arrangements off the gravesites, and labeling them will help our employees to relocate them.
  • Permanent plantings, statues, vigil lights, breakable objects and similar items are not permitted on the graves. The Department of Veterans Affairs does not permit adornments that are considered offensive, inconsistent with the dignity of the cemetery, or considered hazardous to cemetery personnel. 
  • Permanent items removed from graves will be placed in an inconspicuous holding area for two weeks prior to disposal. Decorative items removed from graves remain the property of the donor but are under the custodianship of the cemetery. If not retrieved by the donor, they are then governed by the rules for disposal of federal property.
  • For more information, click here

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