At the close of the Civil War, the Federal Government established a small cemetery to hold the remains of Union troops who died in the battles over Santa Fe. During the Civil War, the Confederacy made unsuccessful attempts to control what was then the territory of New Mexico. Seeking to disrupt the Union presence in the western territories and expand westward to the Pacific, Confederate forces succeeded in briefly capturing Santa Fe in March 1862.
A series of short yet intense battles uprooted Confederate troops, who left the city in April. In 1875, the cemetery expanded and was officially dedicated as a national cemetery. Today, it encompasses 78.6 acres , and by 2006, had 39,695 interments. It is one of only two national cemeteries in New Mexico and it is the final resting place of Civil War veterans, a U.S. Secretary of War, and veterans from World Wars I and II, as well as from more recent conflicts.
In December 1861, Confederate General Henry Hopkins Sibley led a command from Texas north toward Santa Fe to claim the New Mexico territory. With an early victory over Union forces at Valverde, New Mexico, in February 1862, Sibley and his 2,300-men force occupied Santa Fe on March 16 without opposition.
Union forces encountered Sibley’s men at Apache Canyon near Glorieta on March 28, 1862. After a series of skirmishes, Confederate forces retreated to Santa Fe. Union troops destroyed the Confederate supply wagons, forcing Sibley to abandon Santa Fe and return defeated across the Texas border.
In 1870, the bishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe donated a small parcel of land to the federal government to establish a cemetery. In 1875, the federal government purchased an adjoining two-acre tract from the archdiocese. The two parcels were joined and established as the Santa Fe National Cemetery on April 6, 1875.
At first, the cemetery held only the remains of 265 Union soldiers who died in the Battle of Glorieta Pass and other military actions in New Mexico. Later, the government transferred the remains of soldiers from remote post cemeteries in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.
The government purchased an additional seven acres for expansion purposes in 1892. In 1953, the government acquired an additional 25 acres, bringing the cemetery to its current size.
Though of modern construction now, the cemetery’s speaking platform, committal shelter, maintenance building, and office are in the Pueblo style. These buildings feature stucco exterior walls with rounded corners, and wooden bracket capitals and columns and roof beams visible on the building’s interior that, in the case of the speaking platform, project through the exterior walls.
Santa Fe National Cemetery is the final resting place for Medal of Honor recipients, the nation’s highest military decoration. It is awarded for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.” They include:
- Private Edwin L. Elwood, Medal of Honor recipient for action in Arizona Territory during the Indian Wars.
- Corporal Jacob Guenther, Medal of Honor recipient for action in Arizona Territory also during the Indian Wars.
- Army Scout Sergeant Y. B. Rowdy(a native American of the Yuma tribe), Medal of Honor recipient for action in Arizona Territory during the Indian Wars.
- Second Lieutenant Raymond G. Murphy USMC, Medal of Honor recipient for action in Korea on February 3, 1953.
- Captain Robert S. Scott, Medal of Honor recipient for action in World War II.
- Private First Class Jose F. Valdez, Medal of Honor recipient for action during World War II.
- First Lieutenant Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., Medal of Honor recipient for action at the Battle of Tarawa during World War II.
- Specialist Four Daniel D. Fernandez, Medal of Honor recipient for action during the Vietnam War.
In 1994, a memorial of granite of bronze was dedicated World War II Glider Pilots. The following year, a memorial to Women Who Served in the Navy was erected. A China-Burma-India Veterans Memorial, dedicated to World War II veterans, was erected in 2002.
Santa Fe National Cemetery is located at 501 N. Guadalupe St. in Santa Fe, New Mexico and is open for visitors from sunrise to sunset.
Touching 2009 Memorial Day Tribute at Santa Fe National Cemetery: