When the United States took possession of Florida as a territory in 1821 a portion of the old St. Francis Barracks’ land was set aside for a small post cemetery. The first soldiers buried here were casualties of the Seminole Indian Wars. However, most casualties were first buried at different posts around the territory. The greatest numbers of casualties in a single battle were those that fell on December 23, 1835 in a surprise attack on Major Francis Dade’s command near present day Bushnell. Only one soldier survived this battle, which has been historically recorded as the Dade Massacre
In 1842 the Army relocated the remains of 1,400 soldiers from temporary burial sites all over the territory, including those of Dade’s command, to St. Augustine for reinterment in three mass graves. From coquina rock, three big pyramids were constructed to mark the graves. In 1885 the Post Cemetery was officially designated as a National Cemetery. A tall obelisk memorial was erected at the site of the pyramids as a memorial to the deceased soldiers and Indian scouts of the Seminole wars. Since the government would not provide funds for the memorial, it was paid for by each soldier in St. Augustine donating one day’s pay. At 1.36 acres St. Augustine’s National Cemetery is one of the smallest in the country.