How to Find Graves in Soldiers National Cemetery
Why do we need an article on how to find graves in Soldiers National Cemetery? Because it is easier to find plot numbers in books and articles than it is to use a plot number to find the grave! Surprisingly, this is not well documented.
- Surprising Challenges
- A Schematic Map of Soldiers’ National Cemetery
- How to Find Graves in Soldiers National Cemetery
The U.S. government established Soldiers’ National Cemetery for the burial of soldiers who died at the Battle of Gettysburg. The cemetery stands on the battlefield, just south of town and adjacent to Evergreen Cemetery.
On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln offered these words at the cemetery’s dedication: “We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives” that our nation “might live.”
Although burial teams worked to exclude Confederates from the cemetery grounds, they made mistakes. To clarify, “dog tags” did not exist in the nineteenth century, and bodies had been mangled or decomposed. Today, the National Park Service believes that nine Confederate soldiers rest in Soldiers’ National Cemetery.
Most Confederate bodies were removed from temporary graves 1871-73 and then re-buried in South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. For example, Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery contains a plot for unknown Confederates; it is called “Gettysburg Hill.”
In later years, national cemetery graves for non-Civil War veterans extended beyond the periphery of the semi-circular design which has the Soldiers’ National Monument as its center.
With so many books and articles that include the “plot numbers” of individual graves in Soldiers’ National Cemetery, you’d think it would be easy to find graves there. Not so.
I searched for days looking for a map that would point me to “NY Plot B-14,” the grave of Sgt. Amos Humiston of the 154th New York. Of course, I could find the grave by walking up and down the entire New York section, but since I knew the row (B) and the grave number (14), I wanted a more direct approach.
First and surprisingly, the signs in Soldiers’ National Cemetery do not explain the plot numbering scheme. They only point you to a general area, by state, and gravestones are not numbered. The stones themselves have abbreviated names, and sometimes the names are incorrect or incomprehensible.
Second, most books and booklets either lack detailed maps or repeat the errors of other publications in a way that makes them useless for finding specific grave stones, by plot number. After a lot of hunting, I found a great book that helped me to solve the puzzle. I highly recommend this book:
James M. Cole and Rev. Roy E. Frampton, Lincoln and the Human Interest Stories of the Gettysburg National Cemetery (Hanover, PA: The Sheridan Press, 1995). This book is currently available on Amazon via my paid affiliate link.
Finally, for a free online listing of Union burials, see “Union Soldier Burials” in the CivilWarWiki.Net article, “Soldiers’ National Cemetery (Gettysburg, PA),” last accessed April 6, 2017. With that reference, plus this Civil War Cycling article, you will know how to find a particular grave in Soldiers National Cemetery.
A Schematic Map of Soldiers’ National Cemetery
Using the Cole and Frampton book, plus my own experience touring the cemetery, I created the following schematic map. I tested this map against about a dozen plot numbers, and it works. The map is not to-scale.
How to Find Graves in Soldiers National Cemetery
… by Plot Number
1. Stand at the Soldiers’ National Monument
First, find the Soldiers’ National Monument. It is in the center of the map; the following photo should help identify the structure. The cornerstone of Soldiers’ National Monument was placed on July 4, 1865, but the monument dedication occurred on on July 1, 1869.
Next, face in the same direction as the Genius of Liberty statue at the top. Randolph Rogers (1825-92) sculpted the Genius of Liberty statue, which represents liberty’s challenge to reconcile war (the sword in one hand) with peace (the wreath in the other hand).
The best way to learn how to find graves in Soldiers National Cemetery is always to begin at the national monument.
2. Locate the State Section
Next, stand in front of the Soldiers’ National Monument and notice how graves are arranged in concentric semi-circles from the monument’s center.
A raised stone similar to that of the Pennsylvania marker, pictured below, mark’s each state’s section. The plain stone honors soldiers whose names could not be identified during the burial process. Behind the stone, you will find rows of flat gravestones. In addition to state sections, the cemetery includes sections for “unknown” soldiers whose remains could not be assigned to a state.
3. Locate the State Row
This is where things start to get confusing. That is to say, the cemetery’s plot numbering scheme is based on the arcs of two concentric circles that each have a set of rows. Our map makes this clear, but it is not at all obvious to the cemetery visitor.
The key to finding a specific gravestone (like “NY Plot B-14”) is first to find the state’s raised stone marker (see Step 2, above). Next, find the row according to the following instructions.
Most importantly, though, you must remember that the cemetery has two arcs of graves—each separately numbered.
First, the inner circle includes Illinois, West Virginia, Delaware, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Minnesota, Maryland, and the U.S. Regulars. A capital letter identifies each of four rows in the inner circle of graves. If you look toward the graves from the state’s raised stone marker, or from the base of the Soldiers’ National Monument, the names of the inner arc rows are D-C-B-A, in that order.
Second, the outer circle includes Maine, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Indiana. A capital letter identifies each of seven rows in the outer circle of graves. If you look toward the graves from the state’s raised stone marker, the names of the outer arc rows are G-F-E-D-C-B-A, in that order. (From the base of the Soldiers’ National Monument, you may not be able to see where the inner arc ends and the outer arc begins).
4. Count the Graves to Find the Grave Number
It is important to remember that the grave markers and historic signs in Soldiers’ National Cemetery do not identify rows (with letters, A-G), nor do they provide grave numbers. Because of that, you need to arrive at the cemetery with the plot numbers that you want to find. And after that, use this article to find each grave.
Once you find a grave’s section and row, the visitor must count graves from right to left. For me, this was counter-intuitive, but it is important part of knowing how to find graves in Soldiers National Cemetery.
Example: NY Plot B-14 (Sgt. Amos Humiston, 154th NY)
Let’s break-down “NY Plot B-14”:
NY Plot B-14 is in the New York section, which is in a wide outer arc to the north of the Soldiers’ National Monument.
NY Plot B-14 is in the “B” row, which is in the second to last row away from the Soldiers’ National Monument, in the outer arc.
NY Plot B-14 is the 14th grave from the right in the second to last (“B”) row away from the monument, in the New York plot.
Google Maps Tip
Finally, now that you know how to find graves in Soldiers National Cemetery, we turn to one more technique that will accomplish the same goal.
For this to work, you need GPS coordinates. The GPS coordinates for NY Plot B-14 are 39.82057, -77.23139. (You can capture GPS coordinates using a GPS-enabled camera. The coordinates become part of the image.) To continue our example, point your web browser to https://www.google.com/maps. Enter “39.82057, -77.23139” (without the quotes) into the “Search Google Maps” field. Then select Search. You should now see the location of Humiston’s grave on a Google Map.
More on Amos Humiston
More than three months after the Battle of Gettysburg, Sgt. Humiston’s wife Philinda learned that Amos had died. She recognized her children’s portrait printed by a newspaper that was trying to identify the unknown soldier from New York. The soldier was Amos and the “children of the battlefield” were Frank, Frederick, and Alice Humiston.
Amos Humiston was born in Owego, New York, in 1830. At Gettysburg, he fought with Col. Charles Coster’s brigade (1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 11th Corps, Army of the Potomac). He died in the streets of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, while covering for retreating Union troops near the end of the first day of the battle.
Humiston’s dead body was found clutching an ambrotype portrait (a print on glass) of his three young children. Gettysburg citizens memorialized his death with by a large stone marker that is immediately south of the railroad tracks that cross Stratton Street, not far from the Coster Avenue monument to the 154th New York Infantry.Back to Study Notes