San Francisco National Cemetery

San Francisco National Cemetery is a United States national cemetery, located in the Presidio of San Francisco, California. Because of the name and location, it is frequently confused with Golden Gate National Cemetery, a few miles south of the city.

San Francisco National Cemetery
San Francisco National Cemetery
looking north towards the Golden Gate Bridge.
CountryUnited States
Coordinates37°47′59″N 122°27′52″W[1]
TypeU.S. National Cemetery
Size9 acres (3.6 ha)
No. of graves26,425
WebsiteUS Department of Veterans Affairs
Find a GraveSan Francisco National Cemetery

About 1937, San Francisco residents voted to no longer build cemeteries within the city proper and, as a result, the site for a new national cemetery was selected south of the city limits. The cemetery is one of only four officially existing within San Francisco city limits (the others being the Columbarium of San Francisco, the historic graveyard next to Mission Dolores, and the sarcophagus of Thomas Starr King.)


When Spain colonized what would become California, this area was selected as the site for a fort, or presidio, to defend San Francisco Bay. About 40 families traveled here from northern Mexico in 1776 and built the first settlement, a small quadrangle, only a few hundred feet west of what is now Funston Avenue. Mexico controlled the Presidio following 1821, but the fort became less important to the Mexican government. In 1835, most soldiers and their families moved north to Sonoma, leaving it nearly abandoned. During the Mexican–American War, U.S. troops occupied and repaired the damage to the fort.

The mid-century discovery of gold in California led to the sudden growth and importance of San Francisco, and prompted the U.S. government to establish a military reservation here. By executive order, President Millard Fillmore established the Presidio for military use in November 1850. During the 1850s and 1860s, Presidio-based soldiers fought Native Americans in California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada. The outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 re-emphasized the importance of California's riches and the military significance of San Francisco's harbor to the Union. This led, in 1862, to the first major construction and expansion program at the Presidio since its acquisition by the United States.

The Indian Wars of the 1870s and 1880s resulted in additional expansion of the Presidio, including large-scale tree planting and a post beautification program. By the following decade the Presidio had shed its frontier outpost appearance and was elevated to a major military installation and base for American expansion into the Pacific.

In 1890, with the creation of Sequoia, General Grant and Yosemite National Parks in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, the protection of these scenic and natural resources was assigned to the U.S. cavalry stationed at the Presidio. Soldiers patrolled these parks during summer months until the start of World War I in 1914. The Spanish–American War in 1898 and subsequent Philippine–American War, from 1899 to 1902, increased the role of the Presidio. Thousands of troops camped in tent cities while awaiting shipment to the Philippines. Returning sick and wounded soldiers were treated in the Army's first permanent hospital, later renamed Letterman Army General Hospital. In 1914, troops under the command of General John Pershing departed the Presidio for the Mexican border in pursuit of Pancho Villa and his men.

When the United States entered World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Presidio soldiers dug foxholes along nearby beaches. Fourth Army Commander Gen. John L. DeWitt conducted the internment of thousands of Japanese and Japanese-Americans on the West Coast while U.S. soldiers of Japanese descent were trained to read and speak Japanese at the first Military Intelligence Service language school organized at Crissy Field. During the 1950s, the Presidio served as the headquarters for the Nike missile defense program and headquarters for the U.S. Sixth Army. The Presidio of San Francisco, encompassing more than 350 buildings with historic value, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962. In 1989, the Presidio closed as a military entity and was transferred to the National Park Service in October 1994.

On December 12, 1884, the War Department designated 9 acres (3.6 ha), including the site of the old post cemetery, as San Francisco National Cemetery. It was the first national cemetery established on the West Coast and marks the growth and development of a system of national cemeteries extending beyond the battlefields of the Civil War. Initial interments included the remains of the dead from the former post cemetery as well as individuals removed from cemeteries at abandoned forts and camps elsewhere along the Pacific coast and western frontier. In 1934, all unknown remains in the cemetery were disinterred and reinterred in one plot. Many soldiers and sailors who died overseas serving in the Philippines, China and other areas of the Pacific Theater are interred in San Francisco National Cemetery.

There are also three British Commonwealth service war graves here, a Canadian soldier of World War I, and a Royal Navy and Merchant Navy sailor of World War II.[2]

The cemetery is enclosed with a stone wall and slopes down a hill that today frames a view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Its original ornamental cast-iron entrance gates are present but have been unused since the entrance was relocated. Tall eucalyptus trees further enclose the cemetery. The lodge and rostrum date to the 1920s and reflect the Spanish Revival styling introduced to several western cemeteries.

Monuments and memorials

Notable burials

Medal of Honor recipients

(Dates are of the actions for which they were awarded the Medal of Honor.)

Other burials

Two unusual interments at San Francisco National Cemetery are "Major" Pauline Cushman and Miss Sarah A. Bowman. Cushman's headstone bears the inscription "Pauline C. Fryer, Union Spy", but her real name was Harriet Wood. Born in the 1830s, she became a performer in Thomas Placide's show Varieties and took the name Pauline Cushman. She married theater musician Charles Dickinson in 1853, but after her husband died of illness related to his service for Union forces, she returned to the stage. During spring 1863, while performing in Louisville, Kentucky, she was asked by the provost marshal to gather information regarding local Confederate activity. From there she was sent to Nashville, where she had some success conveying information about troop strength and movements. In Nashville, she was also captured and nearly hanged as a spy. She returned to the stage in 1864, to lecture and sell her autobiography. Entertainer P.T. Barnum promoted her as the "Spy of the Cumberland" and through Barnum's practiced boostership she quickly gained fleeting fame. After spending the 1870s working the redwood logging camps, she remarried and moved to the Arizona Territory. By 1893 she was divorced, destitute and desperate; she applied for her first husband's military pension and returned to San Francisco, where she died from an overdose of narcotics allegedly taken to soothe her rheumatism. Members of the Grand Army of the Republic and Women's Relief Corps conducted a magnificent funeral for the former spy. "Major" Cushman's remains reside in Officer's Circle.

Also buried at San Francisco National Cemetery is Sarah Bowman, also known as "Great Western", a formidable woman over 6 feet (1.8 m) tall with red hair and a fondness for wearing pistols. Married to a soldier, she traveled with Zachary Taylor's troops in the Mexican–American War helping to care for the wounded, for which she earned a government pension. After her husband's death she had a variety of male companions and ran an infamous tavern and brothel in El Paso, Texas. Bowman left El Paso when she married her last husband. The two ended up at Fort Yuma, where she operated a boarding house until her death from a spider bite in 1866. She was given a full military funeral and was buried in the Fort Yuma Cemetery. Several years later her body was exhumed and reburied at San Francisco National Cemetery.

San Francisco National Cemetery is also the burial location of Brigadier General George G. Gatley, who commanded brigades and divisions in World War I, and was also well known as the father of actress Ann Harding.[3]


  1. U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: San Francisco National Cemetery
  2. CWGC Cemetery Report. Breakdown obtained from casualty record.
  3. "Gen. Gatley, 55th Brigade Chief, is Dead". Nashville Tennesseean. Nashville, TN. January 22, 1931. pp. 1, 3.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)

Further reading

 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs website

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