First Plots?

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAYou are looking at the southwest corner of the St. Augustine National Cemetery.  The marble slab on the ground in the corner is plot 1 and contains the remains of Lieut. Stephen Tuttle.  The nearer slab is plot 4 and contains the remains of John Winfield Scott McNeil.  If you are thinking these were among the first burials in this cemetery, you would be wrong.

This cemetery served the U.S. Army Post of St. Augustine long before it became a National Cemetery in 1881.  The first interment was 1828 with most of the early graves resulting from casualties of the Seminole Wars.  Most notable among these was the Dade Monument [ see article at Graveyard Rabbit of Moultrie Creek].

TuttleStephen Tuttle was a 1st Lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers and was serving in St. Augustine on a huge project to rebuild and extend the seawall protecting the town.  He died in 1835.  J.W.S. McNeil served with the 2nd Regiment of Dragoons and died in 1837 of wounds received in action at Mosquito Inlet.  Both were originally buried at the Huguenot Cemetery just outside the city gates and reinterred at the National Cemetery many years later.

McNeilSome time back, I received a call from Greg Moore, Command Historian for the Florida National Guard, wondering if I had run into these two officers as part of my Huguenot Cemetery research because he thought they had been buried there first.  Sure enough, looking at a cemetery inventory from 1892 published in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register (see Huguenot inventory ), we found both men with descriptions of the graves and the inscriptions on their tombstones.  These tombstones match the descriptions from the Huguenot inventory.

A search in Google Books turned up an Annual Report from the Secretary of War published in 1916 stating:

“During the year the following remains of soldiers were removed from fields and abandoned cemeteries and reinterred in national cemeteries:   . . .  2 known officers from old Huguenot Cemetery, St. Augustine, FL to the St. Augustine (Fla.) National Cemetery; . . .”

Huguenot Cemetery had been closed in 1884 and there are many reports of various efforts to clean up and restore the cemetery.  The first serious project didn’t begin until 1946 so from the Army’s perspective this cemetery may well have been a concern for the veterans interred there.

So, why were these Soldiers initially buried in the public cemetery instead of the post cemetery?  What were the circumstances of their move?  And, how did they become the first plots at the National Cemetery?  This mystery will take a lot more research to unravel.

The plots thicken.

References:

  • Leeds, B. Frank.  Inscriptions in the Old Protestant Graveyard at St. Augustine, Fla., The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Vols. 37-52. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1883-98.
  • United States War Department.  Annual Reports of the Secretary of War. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1916.
  • Florida. St. Augustine National Cemetery Index and Biographical Guide: (Preliminary Abridged Edition). Special archives publication, no. 44. St. Augustine, Fla: State Arsenal, St. Francis Barracks, 1980.

St. Augustine National Cemetery

National Cemetery at St. Augustine, FL
A view of the St. Augustine National Cemetery

The cemetery adjacent to St. Francis Barracks in downtown St. Augustine served the military post here from Florida’s first days as an American territory. The earliest burials were soldiers killed in the Florida Indian Wars. In 1881, this cemetery was designated the first National Cemetery in Florida. Although the cemetery size was expanded twice in the early 20th century, it is now closed to new interments. The superintendent’s lodge, shown here on the right side of the photo, was built in 1938.

Each Memorial Day, veterans groups, civic groups and citizens gather to honor those who gave their life in battle and those local veterans who have passed away since the previous Veterans Day. An arched coquina stage located at the northern edge of the cemetery property with an open grassy area between it and the flag pole provides enough space for an impressive massing of colors and seating for local dignitaries. Some seating is available in the walkways, but most participants choose to bring chairs or blankets to sit under the live oak trees around the property.

Current Information

The St. Augustine National Cemetery is located at 104 Marine Street, St. Augustine, FL 32084. There is no information kiosk or onsite management personnel at this location. Information inquiries should be made to the Jacksonville National Cemetery at (904) 766-5222. The cemetery is open daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. You can search for burial locations for veterans and their family members online at the VA National Gravesite Locator.

The Florida Department of Military Affairs published an index and biographical guide to the St. Augustine National Cemetery in the 1980s. It is more than just an index – there is also a lot of biographical material included. You can view this document online at the University of Florida Digital Collection. A printed copy is available in the genealogy section of the Southeast Branch of the St. Johns County Public Library.

References:

War Department Report 1904

Between the Florida Wars with the Seminoles and the Civil War, the U.S. Army spent a lot of time in St. Augustine during the 19th century, but by 1904, they didn’t have much use for our city. Here’s the Annual Report of the War Department from June 1904:

The military reservations in the vicinity of St. Augustine, Fla., are as follows:
” A.” Powder or magazine lot, containing an area of 11 acres.
” B.” The St. Augustine National Cemetery, formerly the post cemetery, containing an area of about fifty-eight hundredths of an acre.
” C.” The St. Francis Barracks and hospital lot, containing about 5 acres.
” D.” Two islands, near St. Augustine, in the main channel of the Mantanzas River, containing about 2 acres.
” E.” Fort Marion, an old Spanish work said to have been commenced in 1565 and completed in 1756, under the name of Castle of St. Mark. The fort and adjacent land contain about 22 acres.
” F.” Anastasia Island Military Reservation, containing about 700 acres.

The national cemetery contains the remains of the officers and enlisted men killed in the Dade massacre and Florida wars from 1835 to 1842.

Old Fort Marion serves no useful purpose, but is attractive as a relic. If a portion of this reservation could be set aside as a national cemetery and the remains moved from the present cemetery it would seem advisable, for historic and sentimental reasons, to retain the Fort Marion Reservation, marking accurately and properly its boundaries as determined by proper surveys, or selling to the parties who are located thereon under revocable licenses such portions of the reservation as they hold, carefully bounding and marking the remaining portion and prohibiting any further encroachment or trespass thereon. Then the lands embraced in what is now St. Francis Barracks, the adjoining hospital lot, national cemetery, and the powder or magazine lot might be disposed of.

The buildings at St. Francis Barracks are going to ruin, the post will probably never be occupied again, and it seems useless to expend any money for repairs. An ordnance-sergeant alone is in charge of these reservations, and has a care taker for the Fort Marion Reservation and one for the national cemetery. The sergeant manages all affairs and attends to all his duties in a very satisfactory and businesslike way. His relations with the city authorities and all concerned seem very cordial.

St. Augustine Historic District

That ordnance-sergeant was quite a character, St. Francis Barracks is now the headquarters for the Florida National Guard, the St. Augustine National Cemetery honors those who served throughout the 19th and 20th century and this is what that old “relic” looks like today as a national monument.

Reposted with permission from Moultrie Journal.