Hart Island Soldiers Cemetery

c. 1860

Although Hart Island is usually synonymous with “potter’s field” to most New Yorkers, City Cemetery was not the beginning of tax-funded burials. During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate soldiers encamped on Hart Island. At least three dozen units of Union Soldiers mustered in, trained or were discharged on Hart Island while a total of 3,413 Confederate POWs were incarcerated on the island in 1865. A total of 20 Union soldiers who died before June 1865 were interred in a small burial ground on the island. Burial records indicate that one Confederate soldier, A.W. Bennett of the 10th Alabama Cavalry, was interred on Hart Island before being removed to Cypress Hills National Cemetery. The other 217 Confederates who died on Hart Island while imprisoned were buried directly at Cypress Hills. However, most of the active duty military interments on Hart Island took place following the Civil War due to a cholera epidemic in July 1866. Upon acquiring Hart Island in 1868, New York City began preparations to open City Cemetery and the U.S. War Department arranged for the removal of soldiers to Cypress Hills. Unclaimed veterans who died following discharge from the army were buried by the City in a separate “soldier’s plot” on Hart Island. They were later disinterred and moved to West Farms Soldiers Cemetery in The Bronx starting in 1916; others were removed to Cypress Hills in 1941. While all of the remains were moved, an obelisk constructed in 1877 by the Army Reserves to honor soldiers and sailors, as well as fragments of cast-iron fencing, mark the location of Soldier’s Plot.

Image ©2004 Melinda Hunt courtesy The Hart Island Project