Effort to Mark 1,200 Unmarked Civil War Veterans’ Graves Hits Snag

American volunteers are out in cemeteries across the country, working to document the lives of bygone generations whose graves were not permanently marked with a tombstone. When these dedicated good Samaritans identify a veteran, the volunteers often request a headstone from the National Cemetery Administration which is part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Per the Department’s instructions: “The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) furnishes upon request, at no charge to the applicant, a Government headstone or marker for the unmarked grave of any deceased eligible veteran in any cemetery around the world.”

illustration of government headstones available for the graves of military veterans

Credit: Department of Veterans Affairs

There are multiple styles of markers and tombstones that can be selected. These can be personalized with a symbol reflecting the veteran’s religious faith.

illustration of the religious symbols available for the government headstones furnished for the graves of military veterans

Credit: Department of Veterans Affairs

Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, has been using this VA program to place tombstones on the unmarked graves of Civil War veterans. As a team of volunteers documents each vet, they request a headstone to honor his service in the American Civil War.

Watch a New York Times video report about the volunteer effort to mark these Civil War graves:

This volunteer team estimates that there are over 8,000 Civil War graves in the National Historic Landmark Green-Wood Cemetery, many of them unmarked. The historic New York cemetery has gotten tombstones for over 3,000 formerly unmarked Civil War veterans’ graves, but they have had a problem getting the next 1,200 tombstones.

The Daily News reports that the Department of Veterans Affairs has changed its policy and is now requiring that the tombstone application be filed by a relative and not by a group such as the volunteers working at the Green-Wood Cemetery. See the complete news article “Department of Veterans Affairs blocks historic Green-Wood cemetery from giving Civil War vets tombstones.” Daily News (New York City, New York,) 9 July 2013.

New York Senator Chuck Schumer has gotten involved in this controversy, stating: “To require the permission of a direct descendant of men who died well over one hundred years ago is a nonsensical policy and it must be reversed.”

If the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t reverse this decision, then the volunteers and cemeteries will have to raise the funds to pay for these Civil War veterans’ grave markers.