May 1, 2016
Whole Number 173
A FURTHER NOTE PERTAINING TO THE PLACE OF BURIAL
OF THOMAS J. SPARKS (1844-1910)
Editor's Note: In our abstract of the pension papers for a Union soldier named Thomas J. Sparks, who served in the 134th Regiment Illinois Infantry, appearing in the Quarterly of December 1995, we included the text of a letter written in 1917 by Sparks's widow, Harriet Sparks, to Mrs. Woodrow Wilson. In this, Mrs. Sparks mentioned that her husband had died in San Francisco on October 19, 1910, and had been buried "in the Presedio [sic] in the National Cemetery." In an editor's note, we speculated regarding where his burial site might be. One of our readers, Carol Hodge March of 13101 La Paloma Road, Los Altos Hills, California, has provided the following helpful information, for which we are most grateful;
Just a note about the reference to "the Presedio" on page 4588 of #172. There were actually four presidios established in California by the Spanish; San Diego (1769), Monterey (1770), San Francisco (1776), and Santa Barbara (1782). The word is Spanish for garrison or military post. These "frontier outposts of the Spanish Empire" were established to keep Russia and England from "gaining a foothold" here. In 1822, by accession, they became part of the new Mexican Republic.
Under the Mexicans, the San Francisco Presidio deteriorated and was abandoned for a garrison farther north in Sonoma. During the War with Mexico, the U.S. Army occupied it and rebuilt the adobe buildings. In November 1850, after California had become a state. President Fillmore set aside the Presidio land as a new military reserve. A Parade Ground, barracks, officer's quarters, and other buildings were built during the Civil War, and in 1865 the Presidio at San Francisco became the Army's Department of the Pacific headquarters. Massive forestation and landscape projects were under- taken in the 1880s, resulting in the park-like setting the area still enjoys.
Important to our discussion, in 1884 the Army established the Presidio Burial Grounds on a hill overlooking the Parade Grounds. These Burial Grounds are also designated as a National Military Cemetery, originally covering ten acres and now covering 23.3 acres. A much larger National Cemetery is a few miles down the road (Highway 280) in San Bruno, California. The foreign language school mentioned in your Editor's Note is in Monterey, not San Francisco.
From 1890 to World War One, the San Francisco Presidio was rebuilt and its facilities expanded, including the building of a large Army hospital, later called Letterman Army Hospital. During both World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Presidio and Letterman Hospital were busy places. Recognizing its historical significance in 1960, the Presidio was designated a National Historical Landmark. With military cut-backs in the past few years, the Army base has been closed, as well as Letterman Hospital. Fortunately, the area is being preserved for its park-like qualities and its history.