Annapolis National Cemetery...Then and Now
Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, concieved in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. -Abraham Lincoln
These well-memorized words are just the opening phrase of the three-hundred-word Gettysburg Address, the speech delivered by President Lincoln primarily as an honorific to fallen soldiers who were to be laid in a ceremonial manner with lasting dignity and reverence. And thus were designated the first of three original cemeteries for war dead, Annapolis among the three.
Traversing the Annapolis city streets has been more challenging recently because of the rapid growth and construction up and down West Street. Friendship Circle skirts the Annapolis National Cemetery. This historic resting place for fallen soldiers is steeped with more detail than most residents know. It's a common misunderstanding that the cemetery is part of the Naval Academy. This unique and historical site was designated by President Lincoln during the Gettysburg address as a proper resting place for the dead of the War. Naming Annapolis as one of the three original National Cemeteries was distinctive, because no Civil War battles were fought here. The research data are rich with the passing through of northern troops.
Primary among those were the 6th and 8th Massachusetts regiments (forming a brigade) fast on the heels of President Lincoln's call to war in 1861. The Chesapeake Bay was the desired route to the Potomac and up to Washington, D.C. The New York 7th regiment attempted the trip and was thwarted by intelligence that the Confederate army had blocked the Potomac with a cannon. Retracing their route back to Annapolis, the NY 7th brought troops stranded on the USS Maryland to safety in Annapolis.
General Benjamin Franklin Butler, leader of the MA 6th and 8th came down from a trip to Philadelphia and rescued the USS Constitution from the bay, securing it in Annapolis harbor. Both of these units remained in the Annapolis area. They rebuilt the rail tracks to D.C. and created the designated Parole area for the exchange of prisoners.
The Annapolis National Cemetery is described as a parallelogram, with the main access on West Street. The entrance was enlarged in 1940; it has two eight foot columns decorated with front facing lions and the entry road leads to a mound with a flagpole. There are fifteen defined sections, and the headstones are US military standard: upright and marble. There is a lodge that was built with the new gate as a residence for the caretaker. The cemetery was rededicated after Gettysburg.
The bronze plaque at the front of the building informs:
National Military Cemetery
There are familiar names and there are wives, children and grandchildren of the soldiers. In many ways, it is a fitting place for those who passed through Annapolis during a painful and terrifying time in history. The last burial was in 1975.