Little Rock National Cemetery is located in Little Rock, AR, approximately two miles southeast of the state capital. The first European visitor to this region was Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto who, in 1541, first crossed the Mississippi into what would become Arkansas. Unable to locate the fabled city of gold, de Soto left the region and it was almost 200 years before French explorer Bernard de la Harpe brought new attention to area. In 1722, during his survey of the Arkansas River, Le Harpe named the river bluff La Petite Roch, or "the Little Rock." The area turned out to be a convenient point for crossing the Arkansas River and was near a Quapaw Indian settlement, so La Harpe established his trading post here. When Arkansas became a territory in 1819, the capital was located at Arkansas Post, a site downriver. Two years later it moved to the busy town of Little Rock. Little Rock was incorporated as a city in 1831 and became the capital in 1836 when Arkansas was admitted to the Union.
Although Arkansas had entered the Union as a slave state, its population was divided on the question of secession. In 1861, after officials refused to send troops to fight in the Union Army, a convention met and voted to secede from the Union, reversing an earlier decision. Following the Battle of Pea Ridge in 1862, Union forces captured Little Rock and held the city for the remainder of the war.
Early in the Civil War, the land that is currently the national cemetery was located outside city limits and was used for Union encampments. With Union troops still occupying the city in 1866, a portion of the new city cemetery was purchased by the government and set aside for military interments.
The government purchased the military plot in Little Rock City Cemetery as two parcels: 9.1 acres in September 1866 and 3.2 acres in April 1868. On April 9, 1868, it was designated a national cemetery with the stated purpose to concentrate remains of Union dead who had been buried throughout Arkansas. By this time, there were 5,425 interments: 3,092 known dead and 2,333 unknowns. In 1868, 1,482 remains removed from area battlefield graves were reinterred here.
In 1884, an 11-acre Confederate cemetery was established adjacent to the national cemetery. The remains of 640 Confederate soldiers were removed from Mt. Holly Cemetery in Little Rock and reburied here. In 1913, Congress authorized the Secretary of War to accept a deed from the City of Little Rock for the Confederate cemetery, with the restriction that only Confederate veterans could be interred on the newly acquired land. In 1938, this restriction was removed and the Confederate cemetery became the Confederate Section of Little Rock National Cemetery.
In 1990, the National Expansion Corp. purchased additional land from the adjoining Oakland Fraternal Cemetery and formally donated it to the United States for expansion of the national cemetery. In November 1999, the City of Little Rock donated one additional acre. Little Rock National Cemetery, encompassing a little over 31 acres, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
Monuments and Memorials
The granite and bronze Minnesota Monument was dedicated to 162 Minnesota soldiers who fell in Arkansas during the Civil War. Erected in 1916, it is one of seven Minnesota monuments found in the national cemeteries. The memorialized soldiers were enlisted in the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th and 10th Minnesota U.S. Volunteers. The sculptor was John K. Daniels of St. Paul, MN. Other Minnesota monuments are located at Marion, IN (1913); Memphis (1916), Nashville (1920) and Shiloh (1908) TN; Jefferson Barracks, MO (1922); and Vicksburg, MS (1906–1907). Daniels also did the monuments at Nashville and Shiloh national cemeteries.
The marble Confederate Monument was erected in 1884 by trustees of the Mount Holly Cemetery in honor of the 640 Confederate soldiers originally buried in this cemetery and later re-interred in Little Rock National Cemetery. The soldiers died in Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, and Louisiana between1861–1863.
As a significant sculpture of the post-Civil War period (1886–1934) in Arkansas, both monuments were individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.