Nestled in the Ozarks of Southern Missouri, near the city of Springfield itself, lies the Springfield National Cemetery, established by the federal government during the era of Reconstruction in the late 1860s. Officially enshrined in 1867, the Cemetery is a large, 18 acre site dedicated primarily to Civil War veterans, with a number of interesting architectural features that make it stand out compared to other cemeteries of the period. The border of the original site is marked by the presence of a limestone and sandstone wall, constructed in 1874. Like the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery (among others), Springfield also has a red-brick administrative building, added to the cemetery in 1940 and renovated in the late-1990s.
Outside of the architectural history of the cemetery, the event that left the most impact on the Springfield National Cemetery was the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, which was the first major battle fought west of the Mississippi during the Civil War. The cemetery was originally founded as a site to lay the troops who had perished in the battle to rest, and the largest monuments there are dedicated to the men who fought there, with two being particularly prominent. The first is a memorial to Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, who commanded the Union troops at Wilson’s Creek, while also becoming the first Union general to die in the pursuit of keeping the Union together.
The second major monument at the cemetery is a tribute to the Confederate soldiers who died in the battle, including General Sterling Price, the former governor of Missouri. A number of other, smaller Confederate monuments exist at the cemetery, including one for the unknown soldiers commissioned by the Daughters of the Confederacy in 1958, during the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. As debates over Confederate monuments have become more common in recent years, eyes have turned to the Springfield National Cemetery, and the monument for General Price was vandalized in 2017. The presence of these Confederate monuments is quite ironic, given that the cemetery also serves as the final resting place for five black Union ‘Buffalo Soldiers’, who do not have a monument of their own. Controversies like this can often be histrionic on the surface, they allow us to take a critical eye to monuments, and ask what kind of legacy we are valuing by creating them.