Cypress Hills National Cemetery in New York City
Cypress Hills National Cemetery is the only United States National Cemetery in New York City and has more than 21,100 interments of veterans and civilians. There are 24 Medal of Honor recipients buried in the cemetery, including three men who won the award twice. Although Cypress Hills was established to honor Civil War veterans, its grounds include the graves of soldiers who fought in the American Revolutionary War, Spanish-American War, Korean War and Vietnam War.
Cypress Hills National Cemetery opened in 1862 and gravesites were exhausted in 1954. However, burials of veteran’s spouses continues at the rate of approximately ten per year. The two sections of this national cemetery are located approximately one half mile apart (see below, three sections of Cypress Hills).
The cemetery is located in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, and encompasses 18.2 acres (74,000 m2). It is easily reached on the J line at the Cypress Hills station, approximately 45 minutes from Manhattan.
In 1849 the private Cypress Hills Cemetery was established as a nonsectarian burial ground. On April 21, 1862, the cemetery’s board of directors acted upon the request of undertaker A. J. Case to establish a place for burial of United States veterans who died in Brooklyn and the vicinity. With the American Civil War underway, a location was needed for casualties who died in New York hospitals. The board of directors authorized 2.7 acres (11,100 m2) for deceased veterans and was known colloquially as the Union Grounds. Private Alfred Mitchell, a young soldier of the 1st New York Engineers who died on April 13, 1862, was the first Civil War casualty to be interred in the new Union Grounds. Eight years later, an inspection report noted that 3,170 Union soldiers and 461 Confederate prisoners of war were already buried here. Others were brought from cemeteries on Long Island Sound and as far away as Rhode Island.
In 1870 the private Cypress Hills Cemetery Association deeded the Union Grounds property to the federal government for a consideration of $9,600. Three years later, Congress approved a change in legislation to extend burial rights to honorably discharged soldiers, sailors, and Marines who served in the war. This would necessitate a larger cemetery location for the Brooklyn location. To accommodate the large number of burial requests, the government sought to expand the cemetery. Congress balked at the price asked by the Cypress Hills Cemetery Association, so it went outside the cemetery’s boundaries for a new tract. In 1884 the government purchased a 15.4 acre parcel from Isaac Snediker, located approximately one half mile away from the Union Grounds.
These two parcels were joined by a third piece of the private Cypress Hills Cemetery. On Sept. 17, 1941, a 0.06 acre parcel known as The Mount of Victory was donated to the United States by the State of New York. There are approximately one dozen graves in this plot, most from the War of 1812. These three parcels combined equal 18.2 acre, and make up the Cypress Hills National Cemetery.
By the 1950s the area for burials was running out. The government decided that henceforth all New York City area veterans, and spouses, would be interred at the Long Island National Cemetery in Suffolk County, New York. Today the administration of the cemetery is the responsibility of the Farmingdale staff. Cypress Hills National Cemetery has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1997.
Cypress Hills National Cemetery opened in 1862, the same year as Mill Springs National Cemetery in Kentucky, the oldest active national cemetery in the United States. Cypress Hills National Cemetery is two years older than Arlington National Cemetery.
Three sections of Cypress Hills
The Union Grounds (within Cypress Hill Cemetery)
Located on the east slope of the Ridgewood Reservoir, the Union Grounds are in the southwest portion of Cypress Hills Cemetery, 833 Jamaica Avenue. There are more than 3,170 Union soldiers and sailors, and more than 461 captured or surrendered Confederates buried in the Union Grounds. Over the years the bowl-shaped space accepted veterans from other conflicts, up through World War I. Re-interments from other cemeteries added more graves. Most other interments, however, were largely local in nature, due to the cemetery's location in New York State (which contributed the largest numbers of fighting forces in the Civil War) and the adjacent proximity of the cemetery to New York City, the nation's most populous and hence the prime source of Federal enlistments for the war effort.
The Mount of Victory (within Cypress Hill Cemetery)
Several hundred yards southeast of the Union Grounds, at one of the highest parts of Cypress Hill Cemetery, is another section of the national cemetery. Less than an acre and possessing less than 30 graves, The Mount of Victory is the smallest parcel of federal land. It is dominated by the Eagle Monument (see below), and is easily visible from West Dolorosa Road. Many of those buried here are veterans of the War of 1812. The Mount of Victory is in Section 2 of the cemetery nearby West Dolorosa Road.
Cypress Hills National Cemetery
The largest of the three sections of the national cemetery is located at 625 Jamaica Avenue. Visitors enter through decorative wrought iron gates constructed in 1886. The visitors lodge, built in 1887, is on the right. This Queen Anne style building has an office, meeting room and museum. There is a grave locator outside the lodge door. This section of the cemetery contains approximately 15,000 graves. Although the parcel is quite narrow, it is long, and leads to a hilltop. The cemetery is divided into 16 sections.
There are several notable monuments in Cypress Hills. These are listed in the order that they were erected:
- The 1881 Garfield Memorial Oak Tree (Union Grounds, Section 1 F, on Cypress Way and Metropolitan Way). On Nov. 3, 1881, the James A. Garfield Oak Society of Brooklyn planted a oak in honor of the slain 20th President of the United States. Following a storm in 1944 that damaged the oak, a new one was planted. At one time an iron fence encircled the memorial.
- The Ringgold Monument (Union Grounds, Section 1B). This large obelisk was erected by veterans who served under Colonel Benjamin Ringgold’s command in the Civil War.
- British Navy Monument (Section 2, Grave No. 36). In 1908 workers at Fort Hancock, New Jersey, uncovered a buried earthen brick vault with the remains of a number of men. It was determined this was the crew of a British Navy vessel that perished in 1783 while sailing homeward following the Revolutionary War. On March 5, 1909, the remains were moved to Cypress Hills and interred in a single grave. The headstone—a large granite monument that bears the names of 14 men—was erected in 1939.
- The French Cross to honor French Sailors (Section 3). This 12-foot (3.7 m) granite cross was erected in memory of 25 sailors of the Republic of France Navy who died when their ammunition ship blew up in New York Harbor in October 1918. The remains of three sailors were repatriated to France; 22 are interred in Cypress Hills. Each has a gray granite headstone with a bronze plaque on top.
- Second Division AEF Monument (in front of rostrum).
- The Eagle Monument (Cypress Hills Section 2, The Mount of Victory). This unique hand-crafted monument of fieldstones was created by cemetery laborers around 1934. An American eagle, carved in stone was placed atop the stone pyramid.
Medal of Honor recipients
There are 24 Medal of Honor recipients interred in Cypress Hills National Cemetery.
- Marine Sergeant John Mapes Adams, Medal of Honor recipient for action during the Boxer Rebellion. Section 2, Grave 8262.
- Coxswain John Cooper, aka John Laver Mather, two time Medal of Honor recipient. The first for action on board USS Brooklyn during the Battle of Mobile Bay, and the second a year later while serving on Rear Admiral Henry K. Thatcher's staff in Mobile, Alabama. Section 2, Grave 7410.
- Army Sergeant Wilbur E. Colyer, Medal of Honor recipient for action at the Battle of Verdun during World War I. Section 2, Grave 8588.
- Marine Sergeant Major Daniel Joseph Daly, two time Medal of Honor recipient. The first for action in the Boxer Rebellion, and the second for action in Haiti in 1915. Section 5, Grave 70.
- Marine Private James Dougherty, Medal of Honor recipient for action aboard USS Carondelet (second ship by that name) in Korea in 1871. Section 6, Grave 12374.
- Army Private Christopher Freemeyer, Medal of Honor recipient for action in Montana Territory during the Indian Wars. Section 2, Grave 5259.
- Army Sergeant Major Frederick W. Gerber, Medal of Honor recipient for 32 years of service to the US Army during the Indian Wars. Section 2, Grave 1601.
- Army Sergeant Patrick Golden, Medal of Honor recipient for action in the Arizona Territory during the Indian Wars. Section 2, Grave 4316.
- Army First Sergeant Edward P. Grimes, Medal of Honor recipient for action in Colorado Territory during the Indian Wars. Section 2, Grave 7210.
- Army Sergeant Bernhard Jetter, Medal of Honor recipient for action during the Indian Wars. Section 5, Grave 1.
- Chief Watertender Johannes J. Johannessen, Medal of Honor recipient for peace time service aboard USS Iowa. Section 2, Grave 7425.
- Lieutenant Mons Monssen, Medal of Honor recipient for peace time service aboard USS Missouri. Section OS, Grave 190.
- Army Sergeant John Nihill, Medal of Honor recipient for action in Arizona Territory during the Indian Wars. Section 2, Grave 6640.
- Quartermaster Third Class Anton Olsen, Medal of Honor recipient for action aboard USS Marblehead during the Spanish-American War. Section 2, Grave 9158.
- Army Private Henry Rodenburg, Medal of Honor recipient for action in Montana Territory during the Indian Wars. Section 2, Grave 5825.
- Army Sergeant Valentine Rossbach, Medal of Honor recipient for action at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House during the Civil War. Section 2, Grave 5427.
- Chief Watertender Eugene P. Smith, Medal of Honor recipient for peace time service aboard USS Decatur. Section 2, Grave 7742.
- Gunner’s Mate First Class Wilhelm Smith, Medal of Honor recipient for peace time service aboard USS New York. Section 2, Grave 9492.
- Marine Gunnery Sergeant Peter Stewart, Medal of Honor recipient for action during the Boxer Rebellion. Section 2, Grave 7303.
- Army Private James W. Webb, Medal of Honor recipient for action at the Second Battle of Bull Run during the Civil War. Section 2, Grave 7410.
- Army First Sergeant Henry Wilkens, Medal of Honor recipient for action in Montana Territory during the Indian Wars. Section 2, Grave 5325.
- Seaman Louis Williams, aka Ludwig Andreas Olsen, two time Medal of Honor recipient. Both medals were for peace time service aboard USS Lackawanna. Section 2, Grave 12616.
Other notable interments
- General Thomas W. Egan, 40th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Civil War.
- William "Wild Bill" Lovett, leader of the White Hand Gang, veteran of World War I.
- Sergeant John Martin, aka Giovanni Martini, the last European American to see Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer alive at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
Location and directions
By car: Jackie Robinson Parkway to 833 Jamaica Avenue (Cypress Hills). Drive up Lake Road to West Dolorosa to the Mount of Victory; the Union Fields are located on Veterans Way. One half mile southwest at 625 Jamaica Avenue is the National Cemetery.
By train/walking: J train to Cypress Hills, walk across the street to Cypress Hills. To visit the national cemetery, exit on the south side of the platform and walk southwest on Jamaica Avenue approximately one half mile; you will walk past Salem Fields cemetery and cross Cypress Hills Street.
- United States Department of Veterans Affairs
- United States National Cemetery