Iowa's only national cemetery is in Keokuk and it's a significant piece of our state's Civil War legacy

April 18, 2018

While much of the fighting of the American Civil War happened outside of our state's borders, Iowa's Civil War legacy is still quite impressive. Other than being a significant supplier of supplies and food, we also provided more troops per capita than any other state. 

 

However, there was a little activity within our state. In the far southeast Iowa community of Keokuk, a Union hospital was set up and space was needed to bury the troops who did not survive. While an existing cemetery was already established to serve the community, the casualties of war were buried in adjacent land. Following the conclusion of the war, the parts of the cemetery, where the war dead were buried, was turned over to federal government to for upkeep. Eventually, when the National Cemetery system was created, it became part of that.

 

According to reports, more than 600+ Union troops are buried at the national cemetery in Keokuk as well as 8 Confederate troops. These southerners were prisoners of war when they perished. 

 

In the years since the first burials during the Civil War, thousands of other burials have happened here - including veterans of nearly every American conflict. Family members of those veterans are also interred here. I learned a lot about the burial eligibility in national cemeteries from reading this page on the VA website.

 

After touring the historic Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison and then having lunch at Dr. Getwell's in Keokuk, my buddy and I stopped at the Keokuk National Cemetery, which is just an incredibly beautiful and moving place.

 

 

Despite a blizzard raging in northern and northwest Iowa, a little green was starting to show itself in far southeast Iowa. The rolling hills and timber make this a very peaceful place.

 

 

In the photo below, you can see the part of the cemetery area that is not part of the National Cemetery. 

 

 

A large monument to unknown civil war veterans, was built decades ago after monies were appropriated by the Iowa Legislature.

 

 

Here is an example of a tombstone marking the final resting spot of an unknown Civil War veteran.

There are several other monuments on the grounds as well, including the cornerstone of the building (The Old Estes House) that was used as the hospital during the war.

 

I also found a plaque with the inscription of the Gettysburg Address and another large veterans memorial.

 

 

I found a couple of sign boards which provide visitors a terrific overview of both this particular cemetery as well as the national cemetery system as a whole. 

 

There are a couple of buildings on the premises. Some are operational in nature and some are more historic.

While I do not believe it was open during the time I visited (admittedly, I did not check), the building below does have information inside about finding specific graves.

There are a few places to walk and some nice concrete paths as well. There are small markers which also help to identify the various parts of the cemetery, making it easier to find specific graves.

 

 

There is a lot of history associated with this cemetery and I would encourage you to read more about it. It's all quite fascinating. I hope you will add a visit to the Keokuk National Cemetery to your own adventure itinerary. 

 

As always, I welcome your suggestions of places to visit and profile either in Lee County or in one of our other 98 counties. Additionally, I welcome the opportunity to be hosted by your business or community. Please drop me a note through my website.

 

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