Camp Butler was established in 1861as a Civil War training camp and mobilization center for Illinois recruits. Selected by State officials and Brigadier General William T. Sherman and named for Illinois State Treasurer William Butler (1859-1863), Camp Butler was the second largest recruitment facility in Illinois after Camp Douglas in Chicago. By the end of the war in 1865 nearly 200,000 Union Soldiers passed through this camp.
The Camp later served as a Prisoner of War (POW) facility for thousands of Confederate soldiers captured in battles along the Cumberland, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas Rivers, such as Fort Donelson and Fort Hindman (Arkansas Post). Living conditions within this camp, for both recruits and prisoners, were primitive at best.
Disease was widespread within Camp Butler. Pneumonia, Small Pox, Dysentery, and other illnesses claimed the lives of 639 Union and 866 Confederate soldiers, many of whom were buried within the confines of the Camp. Included among the Confederates were soldiers from Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. Today the Confederate graves are distinguishable by their pointed headstones.
Although the Camp was deactivated in 1866, the cemetery remains an active military burial site. In 2011, the National Cemetery occupied over 53 acres and is the final resting place for more than 20,000 U.S. Veterans and eligible family members. Also interred here are POW soldiers from World War II, whose remains were relocated from various camps and forts throughout the Midwest.