Hampton National Cemetery is located in Hampton, Va., near Hampton Roads, in the vicinity of where the historic Civil War naval battle between the Confederate Merrimac/Virginia and the Union Monitor iron-clad ships occurred in 1862. The cemetery’s first burials took place in 1862 and the cemetery is among numerous national cemeteries with origins that date to the Civil War.
The great number of sick and wounded soldiers during the Civil War resulted in numerous military hospitals being set up near battle sites. A 1,800-bed military hospital was established at Fort Monroe, near Hampton. Although the Fort Monroe hospital was better staffed and organized than many Civil War hospitals, the mortality rate was high. Consequently, burials at Hampton National Cemetery included many soldiers who died at Fort Monroe and other military hospitals in the vicinity. Although burials began at the cemetery in 1862, it was not classified by the U.S. Government as a national cemetery until 1866. The legal transfer of 4.749 acres for the cemetery did not occur until 1868.
There are 638 unknowns soldiers buried at Hampton National Cemetery--most of them Civil War soldiers who fell in combat and were originally hastily buried on the battlefield. There are also 272 Confederate soldiers buried in a separate section.
Hampton National Cemetery is one of 13 national cemeteries in which World War II prisoners of war are interred. There are 55 German and five Italian POWs buried in the Phoebus Addition section of Hampton National Cemetery, which is a discontiguous tract of the cemetery.
During World War II, on April 14, 1942, a German U-boat, U-85, was sunk by the U.S.S. Roper on April 14, 1942 off of Cape Hatteras. The entire crew was lost and the boat sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. On April 15, 1942, full military honors were provided for 28 German sailors from U-85 and they were interred at Hampton National Cemetery. The bodies and a few life jackets were all that surfaced after the submarine was sunk. On board the ship, when it sank, was an Enigma decoding machine. The machine was recovered from the ship during a dive in 2001 and is currently on loan from the German government to the Atlantic Graveyard Museum located in Cape Hatteras, N.C.
Through acquisition of additional land parcels since 1862, the cemetery has grown in acreage from its original size of 4.749 acres to its present size of 27.071 acres. Hampton National Cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on February 26, 1996.