Located at 1701 Williamsburg Road, Richmond National Cemetery lies within what was once Richmond’s wartime fortification lines built when the Confederate army defended Richmond during the American Civil War. The cemetery was established by the United States Congressional legislation in 1866 but the original plot of land was not formally purchased from local resident William Slater until 1867. Additional land purchases in 1868 and 1906 brought the cemetery to its current physical size.
The graves were originally marked by headboards, painted white, and properly lettered. The boards were later replaced with upright marble markers.
The original burials in the cemetery were re-interments from Oakwood Cemetery and Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. Those re-interments were primarily of Federal Union soldiers who perished from the effects of wounds while prisoners of war in the Richmond area military hospitals.
Federal dead from the prisoner of war cemetery at Belle Island Prison Camp in the James River were also re-interred here. Some of the dead intended for the Seven Pines National Cemetery and Cold Harbor National Cemetery were transferred to Richmond when those smaller burial grounds quickly reached their initial capacities from post-war burials and reburials of the dead from the battle of Seven Pines (also known as Fair Oaks) and the battle of Cold Harbor.
Also transferred to Richmond are the remains of hospitalized Union prisoners of war who had died between July 1861 and June 1863 who had originally been interred just outside the east cemetery wall of Shockoe Hill Cemetery in Richmond. Military veterans from later eras are also buried here.
One unknown Confederate soldier was reinterred in the cemetery on April 7, 1978. An employee of a local radio station was relic hunting near the banks of Beaverdam Creek in Hanover County and discovered the remains. There were several Minie balls, and the hunter had presumed that four had struck the soldier. There were buttons and a belt buckle among the items that had triggered the alarm on his metal detector. The remains were found under a foot of dirt roughly 80 feet from the creek.