Fort Delaware Society

Finns Point

National Cemetery

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This page last updated February 11, 2012

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Finns Point National Cemetery was officially designated as a national cemetery in October 1875 by the United States government. Having both Union and Confederate soldiers who died during the American Civil War buried within the confines of the same national cemetery, albeit in separate sections, makes Finns Point somewhat unique. Arlington National Cemetery does have a Confederate Circle and Philadelphia National Cemetery encloses a separate Confederate section. More typical are the separate national cemeteries for Confederates at Camp Chase, Elmira, Point Lookout, and Johnson’s Island. Burial sites used during the war exclusively for the Confederate soldiers, sailors, and civilians who died in Federal prisons and military hospitals in the North were designated as national cemeteries after the war.

Congress passed legislation in 1906 authorizing the marking of the Confederate graves in these cemeteries as part of the national reconciliation effort that took place following the Spanish-American War. Monuments to the Confederate dead buried in the North were erected by the Federal government where other organizations, such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy, had not already done so. The Office of the Commissioner for Marking Graves of Confederate Dead compiled and published a "Register of Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Who Died in Federal Prisons and Military Hospitals in the North" (U. S. War Department, 1912). This "1912 Register" contains the names of 2,436 Confederate military prisoners who were interred in the mass burial trenches and pits at Finns Point, and these names appear on the 12 bronze memorial tablets placed around the base of the Confederate monument. There are no individually marked graves, Union or Confederate, of war time dead in Finns Point National Cemetery.

Finns Point National Cemetery was enhanced and improved in response to the urging of Governor James L. Kemper of Virginia. Governor Kemper had been a brigade commander under Major General George E. Pickett in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia and was wounded in action at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863. Many of Kemper’s Virginians were sent to Fort Delaware and those who died there were buried at Finns Point.  United States Adjutant General E. D. Townsend wrote to Governor Kemper in 1875:  "Most of the bodies of the Confederate prisoners of war who died at Fort Delaware are interred in the soldier’s burial ground at Finns Point on the New Jersey shore, opposite to the fort, which is enclosed by an Osage-orange hedge, and while not in as good [an] order as might be desired, is reported as presenting a more respectable appearance than many country church-yards. -- the Quartermaster General will be directed to have the remains of the soldiers - Union and Confederate - buried on Pea Patch Island -- transferred to Finns Point National Cemetery, ---." 

The Quartermaster Department exhumed 135 Union remains and 187 Confederate remains found on Pea Patch Island in November 1875 and reinterred them in the Finns Point burial ground. Twenty-two empty coffins were uncovered on Pea Patch Island during this exhumation, and it appeared that these remains had been removed by family and friends sometime after the war. These are presumed to have been Confederate remains although the surviving Quartermaster records and reports are not clear on this point. The Finns Point burial ground may have been used before the Civil War to bury soldiers involved in the construction of Fort Delaware. There were ten marked Federal graves present in the burial ground when it was first surveyed in the summer of 1875. Prior to June 1863 when Finns Point was first used to bury Confederate soldiers and civilian detainees, these dead were buried on Pea Patch Island. Thereafter the Pea Patch Island Confederate plot was used only when inclement weather prevented taking them across the Delaware River to New Jersey. The Union dead were buried on Pea Patch Island in individually marked graves throughout the war and not removed until November 1875. Markers were lost on Pea Patch Island by 1875 and individual graves, Union or Confederate, could not be identified. While the 135 Union remains were reinterred in numbered grave sites, those markers were also lost over the years. Today there are no marked individual Civil War burials. (See Fort Delaware Notes, February 2004, "Civil War Burials on Pea Patch Island" by R. Hugh Simmons)

Frederick Schmidt, a Union veteran who had lost an arm in the war, was appointed the first Superintendent in 1875 and reported the cemetery in poor condition: "--it had no drives or walks, no drainage, few trees and those in bad condition, headboards and fences rotten and broken down." Much of what the visitor sees today was created and completed by 1877 including the Meigs lodge for the superintendent. But, improvements to the cemetery continued to be made over the years beginning with erection of the Union monument in 1879. Memorial services were held at the cemetery in the years following its establishment as a National Cemetery. Superintendent Schmidt was sent to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and replaced by Charles F. Eichwurzel, a veteran of the campaigns against the Native Americans in the 1870's. Eichwurzel described a large turnout for Memorial Day in 1882: "The road on both sides were filled with carriages while numbers of people arrived by excursion steamers."

Around 1885, iron plates containing seven quatrains of Theodore O'Hara's poem "Bivouac of the Dead" were placed by the Federal government at the end of the seven Confederate burial trenches. (See Fort Delaware Notes, February 2005, "Bivouac of the Dead" by Rich Thompson). The Confederate memorial obelisk built of reinforced concrete, covered with a facing of Pennsylvania granite, stands 85 feet tall and was completed in 1912. And in 1936, the Union monument was moved a short distance to its present location and a Grecian cupola or cover was added.

Finns Point National Cemetery continued in active use as a burial site for members of the Coastal Artillery garrison at nearby Fort Mott through the end of World War I. It is in active use today for American service veterans of all wars, but burials are now limited to cremains. The cemetery is operated and maintained under the direction of the Department of Veterans Affairs. For more information and specific data on all burials at Finns Point, write to the Director, Beverly National Cemetery, Department of Veterans Affairs, Beverly, New Jersey 08010 or call (609) 877-5460. Beverly National Cemetery is responsible for both Finns Point National Cemetery and the Philadelphia National Cemetery.

The names of 105 Union soldiers known to have died at Fort Delaware during the war are inscribed on the Union monument erected in 1879 in Finns Point National Cemetery with an inscription noting that the remaining 30 were buried as unknowns. On going research by Fort Delaware  Society members has identified at least five of these unknown dead. Research into the National Archives records by Fort Delaware Society archivists has produced the names of an additional 500 Confederate prisoners who died during their captivity at Fort Delaware and who are not named in the 1912 War Department "Register" or on the bronze memorial plates.  Based upon Adjutant General Townsend’s statement to Governor Kemper in 1875 and the lack of any records to the contrary, many of these Confederates are presumed to have been buried at Finns Point. Society archivist Jocelyn P. Jamison compiled the names of 2,925 Confederate prisoners of war, 109 Union guards [26 others are still unknown], and 39 civilian detainees along with additional personal data on each.  This information has been published under the title "They Died at Fort Delaware 1861 - 1865" by the Fort Delaware Society (June 1997).   A copy can be obtained from the Society for $8.00 plus postage.

Recently, through the efforts of researchers from the Ohio Civil War Genealogy Journal, it was determined that five Ohio soldiers died at Fort Delaware in the fall of 1862 who were not members of the garrison. Released from the Confederate prison at Belle Isle in September, approximately 700 Union "paroled prisoners of war" were sent north to await a declaration of exchange which would return them to duty. Camp Parole in Annapolis was over crowded with returning paroled prisoners and Fort Delaware was pressed into service as a temporary parole camp. During a stay of three months, several died of disease including the five Ohioans and all were buried on Pea Patch Island. In 1875, their remains were removed to Finns Point National Cemetery. For more on this episode read "Five Paroled Union Prisoners From Ohio Who Died at Fort Delaware in 1862" by Daniel H. Reigle published in Fort Delaware Notes, February 2007.

Finns Point National Cemetery is open year round for visitation and can be reached by taking the first/last exit at the New Jersey end of the Delaware Memorial Bridge [I-295] and traveling east on New Jersey State Route 49 through Pennsville, New Jersey. A well marked right hand turn on Fort Mott Road takes you to Fort Mott and Finns Point National Cemetery plus the Three Forts Ferry dock.

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Finns Point Nature Trail Photos

The following photos were taken at mid-day on a very hot, humid early summer day with high breeze. The intense summer haze practically obscured a view of Pea Patch Island and Fort Delaware from the end of DRBA's Fort Mott dock. However, it was surprisingly cool and pleasant in the woods along the Finns Point Nature Trail. I carried insect repellent but did not need it.

The trail measures about 3/4 of a mile from the DRBA dock to Finns Point National Cemetery and about the same distance from the Fort Mott parking lot and picnic pavallion.

DRBA Fort Mott Dock Turn Left at Fort Mott Welcome Sign

Walk Along the Fort Mott Seawall to Trail Head

Approaching Trail Head

Finns Point Trail Head at Fort Mott

Lush Green Forest Land

Flanked by Swamp Land

Foot Bridge over Small Creek

One of Many Scenic Rest Stops

Trail Head near Cemetery Gate

Finns Point National Cemetery Gate

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