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How were all the bodies disposed of?

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by Diana9, Apr 30, 2012.

  1. Diana9

    Diana9 2nd Lieutenant

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    I realize this is an unpleasant subject, but thinking of battles like Gettysburg, with 50,000 killed in three days, it occurs to me to ask how on earth did they bury all those bodies? Plus, it would have to be done quickly to avoid the spread of disease. Who buried them? Did they use prisoners, free slaves, or did they hire locals?

    Correction: deleson1 pointed out to me that the 50,000 number I cited above was in error. That total includes wounded and captured.

    Here is a breakdown from Military History Online:

    Union:
    Killed - 3, 155​
    Wounded 14, 530​
    Missing: 5, 365​
    Total: 23,040

    Confederate:​
    Killed: 2,600 - 4,500​
    Wounded: 12,800​
    Missing: 5,250​
    Total: 20,650 - 25,000
    • Total Confederate casualties have been estimated to be as great as 28,000. It is usually agreed that total Confederate casualties numbered at least 1/3 of Lee's army.
    • Casualties generally included anyone who deserted, was captured, missing, wounded, or killed. In essence, if a soldier was not present during muster, he could likely be counted as a casualty.
     

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  3. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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  4. johan_steele

    johan_steele Lt. Colonel Retired Moderator

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    Generally shallow graves of the mass variety. soldiers, POW's, slaves, freemen, locals whoever was available did it & they did it as quickly as possible.
     
  5. Diana9

    Diana9 2nd Lieutenant

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  6. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    I'm guessing she was just one of many--and certainly buried more than most pregnant women. Yuck.
     
  7. Diana9

    Diana9 2nd Lieutenant

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    It must have been a massive undertaking. A grueling job. Hard to fathom how they could endure it. Considering also that these battles took place on farm land there must have been conscious efforts to bury them where they wouldn't contaminate the soil.

    Okay, this is getting really morbid. Sorry I brought it up.
     
  8. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    I tried to not even do housework when I was expecting.
     
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  9. oldpete63

    oldpete63 Sergeant Major Trivia Game Winner

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    Here's a bit on it:
    New York Times - July 11, 1863

    OUR GETTYSBURG CORRESPONDENCE; The Last of the Dead Buried--Condition of the Wounded--The Battle-field and Relic Gatherers.

    Published: July 15, 1863


    [​IMG]
    GETTYSBURGH. Saturday, July 11, 1863.
    The last of the rebel dead on the battle-field were buried only yesterday. They were principally found near the foot of Round Top Ridge, where some of the most terrific fighting of the battle took place, between a portion of LONGSTREET'S forces and the Excelsior brigade. The bodies numbered, in all, about fifty. Quite a number, nearer the centre, had been buried the day previous. Decomposition had progressed so far as to render it impossible to handle the bodies at all, and graves were necessarily dug close by the side of them, and they simply turned over into them. The dead horses which have been strewn over the field for miles around since the battle, emitting the most offensive odor, are also now being rapidly buried.
    There are still about three thousand wounded in the principal hospitals throughout the village, all of whom are well cared for. There are in addition to this number about a thousand rebel wounded in the place, nearly all of whom are in the Pennsylvania College building, which is used as a hospital; it is the best and most spacious building in the place, and was taken possession of as a hospital during the first day's fight on Wednesday. Most of the rebel wounded are under the charge of Dr. H.D. FRASER, Division Surgeon under the rebel Gen. ANDERSON. The rest of them are under the care of Dr. W.B. REULISON, of New-York City, who has chief charge of the Cavalry corps Hospital, at the Presbyterian church, which is one of the very best conducted hospitals in the place. Gov. CURTIN has been here for a couple of days, giving his personal attention to the wounded and otherwise making himself useful.
    The battle-field is visited daily by thousands of people from all sections of the country. Many come in quest of those who have fallen in battle, while most of them come through sheer curiosity. Thousands of dollars' worth of guns and other military Valuables, are carried away by them from the field, notwithstanding the pretended vigilance of those charged with the duty of preventing such offences, and the ground for miles, in all directions is still thickly strewn with all manner of such articles. The Village is, of necessity, very much crowded, and hundreds of visitors are obliged to seek the hospitality of private dwellings, the hotels being wholly incapable of accommodating them all. Most of the citizens remained in the place during the battle, and those who did go away have again returned, and once more resumed their usual callings. There is but little business, however, as yet, of any kind transacted, nearly all the merchandise having been carried a way either by the rebels when in possession of the place, or by the owners of the property themselves; and most of the citizens, are devoting themselves almost exclusively to the care of the wounded. There were several citizens wounded during the progress of the battle, but only one killed -- Miss MINNIE WADE, a young lady about 20 years of age, who was in her dwelling at the time.

    A book I would highly suggest - very good read - and covers it all:
    A Strange and Blighted Land -- Gettysburg: The Aftermath of a Battle

    by Gregory A. Coco
    Walt Whitman once wrote, "The real war will never get in the books." He may have felt differently had he ever read A Strange and Blighted Land -- Gettysburg: The Aftermath of a Battle. An exhaustive compilation of first-hand accounts of the Gettysburg battlefield in the days, weeks, and months following the fight, this book goes a long way toward capturing the true pity and terror of the Civil War.
    Gregory Coco goes beyond the usual sources to bring us little-known accounts from soldiers and civilians, doctors and nurses, Good Samaritans who came to help the wounded and the dying, and callous souls who came to gawk and profit from the most gory spectacle ever seen on the continent. The result is a heartbreaking story of the human misery caused by war.
    While sometimes harrowing to read, the book offers a wealth of detail on how the town of Gettysburg, a small hamlet of 2,400 people, coped with the enormous problem of burying 7,000 dead and caring for 20,000 wounded men abandoned by both armies. Coco tells us about the initial burial trenches on the fields and farms where the struggle took place, then takes us on a tour of the vast hospitals that surrounded Gettysburg. You will learn about Camp Letterman, a unique central Army hospital where the most seriously injured men, both Union and Confederate, received tender, humane care.
    The author discusses how both armies coped with the large number of prisoners taken during the battle and chronicles their sometimes surprising experiences. Finally, he describes the citizens' drive to clean up the town, create Gettysburg National Cemetery, and send the Confederate dead home in the decade after the battle.
    This is a splendid book about one of the most terrible events in our nation's history. I highly recommend it for anyone who seeks to understand the battle of Gettysburg and the human cost of the Civil War.


    A short explanation:

    Burying the Dead
    After the battle of Gettysburg, thousands of those killed during the battle still lay in the fields surrounding the town. With Lee's retreat and Meade's pursuit, the armies left their dead behind unburied. And so it was left to local citizens to bury those men who had fallen in the three days of fighting that had ravaged the area surrounding their town.
    As Pennsylvania's Governor Andrew G. Curtin visited the battlefield in the weeks following the battle, he was horrified to see the condition of the fields, littered with half-buried or unburied soldiers. A local attorney named David Wills had a plan where the government would purchase a piece of land on which to build a cemetery for the Union dead. Wills' plan called for Pennsylvania to seek help from the 17 other Union state whose sons had died at Gettysburg to cover the cost of reburial and care of the cemetery.
    Wills' purchased 17 acres on Cemetery Hill at a cost of $2 475.87 and commissioned landscape artist William Saunders to design this new cemetery and the construction of the cemetery itself began soon itself. Work on the reburial of the soldiers and construction of the cemetery went slowly. Only 100 dead could be buried per day, as per a contract signed with a local man, F.W. Biesecker, and a hard winter prevented the cemetery from being completed until March 18, 1864.


    Off the top of my head - it's been said that quite a few deaths of the civilian populations are attributed to the disease's created by the dead - mainly from the horses - which were the last to be eliminated - mainly by burning as the carcasses would have been too large to bury. One account I have read (think it's Greg Coco's book) - is that the bottleflies were so thick that they covered every inch of the fences. Another tale is that turkey vultures from miles away descended at Gettysburg in droves - which their descendants exist on the battlefield to this day (I've seen them - but not sure of the factual truth of it). Greg Coco's book is one of a kind, in that the whole book is dedicated to the aftermath, and he pulls no punches - the book is like an accident scene - you don't want to look, but most times inevitably do.Not an all inclusive answer to your question, but is a summary of what occured.
     
  10. oldpete63

    oldpete63 Sergeant Major Trivia Game Winner

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    Not at all - it's a part of the history - they are still having remains surface at Gettysburg - I believe 3 or 4 have resurfaced within the last 30 years or so - and now with a new acquistion the park has made - the Park Historian related to me that they believe they are going to find more remains as the years go by.
     
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  11. deleson1

    deleson1 Sergeant

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    You have 50,000 listed as killed. That would be total casualties, approx 51,000, give or take. That would include killed, wounded, missing, and captured. Without looking it up I believe the total killed was between 7-8 thousand if i recall correctly. Many more than that died later from wounds so a total tally could vary depending on how and when the count was made.
     
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  12. oldpete63

    oldpete63 Sergeant Major Trivia Game Winner

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    As an aside - Gettysburg Daily (which uses Licensed Battlefield Guides - have 2 sections concerning the Hospitals of Gettysburg - includes tours, maps, etc. - Link is

    http://www.gettysburgdaily.com/?page_id=5061
     
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  13. Diana9

    Diana9 2nd Lieutenant

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    wow, oldpete63, that's an amazingly incisive account. Thank you.
     
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  14. Diana9

    Diana9 2nd Lieutenant

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    My figures were wrong. Thanks for the correction.
     
  15. oldpete63

    oldpete63 Sergeant Major Trivia Game Winner

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    You're very welcome (and please don't take me for a ghoul :wink:).
     
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  16. oldpete63

    oldpete63 Sergeant Major Trivia Game Winner

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    Below is her narrative in PDF format - from her own account.
     

    Attached Files:

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  17. reading48

    reading48 1st Lieutenant

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    Don't forget....Horses and mules were soaked with kerosene... fires burned for days...
     
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  18. Robtweb1

    Robtweb1 2nd Lieutenant Retired Moderator Civil War Photo Contest
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  19. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    Drew Faust specifically covers this topic in "The Republic of Suffering." An excellent book "The Debris of Battle" recounts the effort to bury the dead and treat the wounded after Gettysburg.
     
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  20. Diana9

    Diana9 2nd Lieutenant

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    I love these personal narratives. They're the closest thing to being there.

    Her story is almost surreal. Scary and spooky, like a "Twilight Zone" episode.
     
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  21. Diana9

    Diana9 2nd Lieutenant

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    "The story of the Cemetery at Resaca involves a young girl, Mary Green and her younger sister, Pyatt, who found 2 soldiers who lay dying from wounds they suffered during the battle fought here on May 14-15. Along with two former slaves the girls buried the bodies of the soldiers in their flower garden that had just begun to bloom"

    These stories are not often told. We read about women helping as nurses in hospitals but not taking up a shovel to do the grueling work of burying the dead.

    Learn something new here every day.
     
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