Cars race by along Glenstone Avenue along the cemetery’s eastern boundary. Half a block to the west, where Seminole Street intersects Glenstone, you’ll find the cemetery’s main entrance. When closed, its two black gates read “U.S. National Cemetery.”
Inside, hundreds of Union and Confederate soldiers, many of whom were killed during the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, are buried here. Many of these soldiers share the same name: Unknown.
“This cemetery was actually a part of an 80 acre purchase by the city of Springfield to put a new city cemetery in. They were all bought as one plot for $3,000 by the city of Springfield in 1867,” said Sellars.
I traveled to the cemetery to meet John Sellars, the executive director at Springfield’s History Museum on the Square.
To the left sits the monument with an inscription of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Nearby, workers are repairing the roof of the main cemetery office.
Sellars tells me that prior to the national cemetery’s founding, soldiers were buried in small cemeteries all over the city.
“There was a soldier’s cemetery they called it, the confederate cemetery and so on,” he said. “They wanted to consolidate those all into one spot so that their relatives could come on holidays and so on. So they asked the city to sell them this corner out of that plot,” Sellars said.
After the Springfield National Cemetery was established, three acres were bought by the Confederate Cemetery Association. A low stone wall divided the two plots of land.
“So, you had union dead on this side, and confederate dead on the other side of the wall,” said Sellars.
Sellars said over time opinions about the low stone wall began to change and was eventually removed. Around this same time, demand for more space was growing. The Springfield National Cemetery isn't the final resting place for just Civil War soldiers. Others who have served in wars since then are also buried within the cemetery.
“They needed more graves for war dead and the Confederate Cemetery Association agreed to allow burials in the Confederate section and it ultimately then filled up as well with heroes from all the wars that the United States has fought since the Civil War,” Sellars said.
The Springfield National Cemetery has several large monuments located within its walls. One is a memorial for Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon. Lyon was the commanding officer for the north at the battle of Wilson’s Creek and was the first Union general to be killed during the war. Other monuments include a statue of an infantry soldier that was erected to honor the Union dead.
There is a Confederate monument on the cemetery grounds, which was recently vandalized amid national protests to have the structures removed. The controversy then shifted to a local lawmaker’s response, who called for the crime’s perpetrators to be hanged.
The monument is supposed to honor Confederate soldiers and former Missouri Governor Sterling Price. General Price was the Confederate army’s commanding officer at the battle of Wilson’s Creek. His portrait is featured on the front of the bronze monument.
"There are places where it’s appropriate and there are places it is not. But there are places where it is and I think this is one of them,” Sellars said.
Despite its recent controversy, visitors to the Springfield National Cemetery are likely to find a tranquil place where people can visit their loved ones long past.