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The Return of the Confederate Dead

Discussion in 'Civil War History - General Discussion' started by tmh10, Sep 19, 2012.

  1. tmh10

    tmh10 Major

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    On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln dedicated the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, with those immortal words: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation...."
    Those words, which will probably last as long as this Nation lasts, were spoken to dedicate a cemetery for the Union soldiers who gave their "last full measure of devotion" on Gettysburg's bloody battlefield. But what honor was accorded the Confederate dead? Where were they laid to rest?

    Following the Battle of Gettysburg, the Confederate dead were buried along the roads, shoved into trenches, or consigned to common graves. The Southerners were seen as traitorous invaders and their bodies were not accorded the respect afforded the men in blue. One newspaper reporter wrote: "The poor Confederate dead were left in the fields as outcasts and criminals that did not merit decent sepulture." President Lincoln's immortal words were not spoken over their unattended, and unmarked, graves.
    Reacting to the lack of proper burial for these Southern soldiers left at Gettysburg, the Southern states launched efforts to return the bodies of their sons to their native states following the end of the War Between the States. In Richmond, the Hollywood Memorial Association started a fund drive to secure the money to bring the Confederate dead from Gettysburg to Richmond for reburial in Hollywood Cemetery.
    Their efforts proved successful. On June 15, 1872, a steamship docked at the wharf at Rocketts on the James River with boxes containing the Confederate dead. The soldiers who left Virginia to fight for the cause they thought was just, had come home. No one will ever know for sure, but in one of the precious boxes were probably the unidentified remains of Brigadier General Richard B. Garnett, who was killed while leading his men in what history has labeled "Pickett's Charge."
    Pickett's Charge, which took place in the afternoon of July 3, 1863, started when General George E. Pickett ordered his men forward yelling, "Charge the enemy and remember old Virginia!" Over 13,000 Confederates emerged from the woods on Seminary Ridge and headed toward the waiting Union forces on Cemetery Ridge, which was nearly a mile away.

    It was described by a Union soldier as Confederates charging forward "with the step of men who believed they were invincible." Union shot and shell tore into the marchers, but still they came. It was recorded that the battle noise was "strange and terrible, a sound that came from thousands of human throats...like a vast mournful roar." With muskets firing, flags waving, bayonets fixed and swords pointing forward, the flower of Southern manhood moved forward, ever forward. The fighting was bitter as the Confederates flung themselves across a stone wall which separated the two armies. The battle was awesome, the human casualties appalling; and the Union's fate hung on the outcome. It was, however, the Confederacy that died on that stone wall as the men in gray were repulsed by the Union forces.
    Their charge had failed. General Garnett, who was ill on the day of the charge, led his men into what was described as a mission to "hell or glory." As he plunged with his men through a hail storm of lead, Garnett was ripped apart by grape shot and his body was left unidentified on Gettysburg's field.
    The honor these dead Confederates were denied in life, they found in death. On June 20, 1872, fifteen wagons were assembled at Rocketts to carry the boxes containing the remains of the Confederate dead. Each wagon was draped in mourning and was escorted by two former Confederate soldiers with their muskets reversed.
    The funeral procession, which included both political as well as military leaders of the recently defeated Confederate nation, wound its way up Main Street as it moved toward Hollywood Cemetery. The buildings along the route were draped in black, and they echoed to the plaintive sound of the funeral march.

    As the wagons passed slowly by, "many eyes were filled with tears and many a soldier's widow and orphan turned away from the scene to hide emotion." When the procession reached the cemetery, the boxes were unloaded and buried in a section known as Gettysburg Hill. The soldiers who had escorted the bodies were ordered to "rest arms" as their comrades were laid to rest in Virginia's soil.
    There was nothing comparable to the Gettysburg Address for these soldiers. There were no memorable orations; only a prayer by The Rev. Dr. Moses Hoge of Richmond's Second Presbyterian Church was spoken. The prayer contained these lines: "We thank Thee that we have been permitted to bring back from their graves among strangers all that is mortal of our sons and brothers." Dr. Hoge prayed for those who had survived the war and then intoned, "Engrave upon the hearts of...all the young men of our Common- wealth the remembrance of the patriotic valor, the loyalty to truth, to duty, and to God, which characterized the heroes around whose remains we weep, and who surrendered only to the last enemy...death."
    Following the prayer, three musket volleys were fired in a final tribute to those whose bodies were laid to rest for all eternity on Hollywood's sacred hill. The sounds of the muskets echoed across the cemetery, across the River James, and they still echo today across the pages of history.
    Source: Information provided by Walter S. Griggs, Jr., School of Business, Virginia Commonwealth University
     

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  3. reading48

    reading48 1st Lieutenant

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    Good Post......tks
     
  4. Monitor

    Monitor Corporal

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    No matter whether their cause was right or wrong, these men deserved some dignity and honour in death. But it seems that history is full of similar experiences following major battles; the 'winner' accords dignity to his fallen, while the vanquished are generally regarded as decomposing flesh to be disposed of ASAP. Very sad for the families. Thank you once again Ted.
     
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  5. tmh10

    tmh10 Major

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    My sentiments exactly, Monitor.
     
  6. unionblue

    unionblue Brev. Brig. Gen'l

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    Brave men who fight for what they believe should be accorded the dignity of a final resting place that marks their passing, whether they be Union or Confederate.
     
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  7. matthew mckeon

    matthew mckeon Brigadier General Moderator

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    Good post. I suggest you view "Death and the Civil War," which deals with this issue.
     
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  8. private24thvacav

    private24thvacav Private

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    Great post ,I just finished reading a book called Wasted Valor by Greg Coco, dealing with confederate dead after Gettysburg. It was an interesting book
     
  9. whitworth

    whitworth 2nd Lieutenant

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    "No matter whether their cause was right or wrong, these men deserved some dignity and honour in death"

    Lofty goals lost in the reality. No one was prepared for the war that came. Neither were they prepared for the death of soldiers in such a huge number. Of so many solders, dead in one place. If they were so interested in dignity and honour of the dead, they should have thought about the cost of secession before it began.

    There was no pre-planning for any national military cemetery, no large graves registration units, no id tags on soldiers, no machinery in place for burial.

    How does one prepare for the logistics of all the dead, when the armies could hardly bear the logistics of the living.
     
  10. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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    Warning: I wept uncontrollably during the post-Gettysburg segment on the Confederates.
     
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  11. bama46

    bama46 Captain

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    While I do honor and revere the Confederate soldiers and the sacrifices they made during that war, I understand and accept the fact that they should not have been in National Cemeteries. While they were still Americans, they were the enemy. As we would not allow a member of the Taliban in Arlington, so the union would not allow them in their cemeteries along with their war dead.
    An interesting anomoly to this is Camp Butler National Cemetery, located in Springfield, IL. Butler was originally a muster point for troops from the area, then became a POW camp. There are 885 or so confederate soldiers buried there. It also contains a contingent of federal soldiers as well as the dead from all our wars since then. Why are the Confederates there? They were there first!
    Every year on Memorial day, every tombstone has a small American flag on the grave as is the practice elsewhere. The Confederate graves are also decorated with small 1St Nationals as well.
     
  12. Shadow9216

    Shadow9216 First Sergeant

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    I agree with you, with one minor distinction: we pay honor to those who have fought with honor. We have faced many enemies who fought hard wars and inflicted great casualties upon us, but they obeyed the laws of war and, often and where possible, behaved humanely and with compassion. While it would not be appropriate to bury them in Arlington, it is altogether appropriate to bury them with military honors; on Ft. Meade there are graves for German POWs who died during confinement- the graves are tended and periodically decorated (mainly on German holidays) by unknown individuals. This is a mark of the respect military professionals have for one another- do your best to kill that person over there, but when the battle is done, bind his wounds or bury him with honor as you would your own.

    The Taliban, and various other terrorist groups, do not act within the confines of the laws of armed conflict or behave with honor and decency. I deplore desecration of their remains, but don't believe they deserve any special honors post-mortem. Sorry if that sounds harsh, I realize my sentiments may be somewhat colored and not shared by all- but I don't feel the Taliban are in the same category as Confederate dead. The Taliban may fight hard, and may fight for what they believe, but their behavior is without honor.

    Again, I apologize for my comments if they offend- not my intent in such company as we have here at CWT.
     
  13. napoleon 12 pounder

    napoleon 12 pounder Sergeant

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    This topic was brought up in the documentary last night (death and the civil war on pbs) It went deeper than just that the armies were not prepared for the level of suffering and death the war would bring. There was a great animosity toward the dead confederates on northern soil and dead union soldiers on southern soil. Ive just finished reading "Debris of Battle" about the aftermath of Gettysburg. The lack of care for those men on both sides was terrible but the care provided the confederates was criminal by todays standards. The shear numbers of dead and wounded, the fact that on June 19th, then commanding officer Hooker, had reduced the number of medical supply wagons assigned to each division from 6 to 2 and when Meade saw the battle about to rage he sent the most of the supply train twenty miles to the rear in Westminster and only relented after much persuasion once the battle was over; add to that that number of men eating off the countryside for days causing a lack of food, and finally the confederates had torn up the railroad approaching gettysburg thwarting any chance of a quick response. talk about FUBAR! Anyone who wished to provide some compassionate relief for the men in grey was under great pressure by the locals and the union army not to provide relief to the them. I am looking at this from the distance of many years so I only see the bravery and valor of both sides and the terrible suffering of the families. I don't feel the fear of being invaded or the deprivations suffered by the homebody. But these were not taliban fighters they were americans and after the war the government missed a great opportunity for healing this great divide by taking their bloody boot off the neck of their vanquished foe in the pursuit of their pound of flesh and doing for those southern families the same they were doing for the northern ones. Bring them home to burial. Yes I know. It was caused by their own rebellion and protection of the horrors of slavery, but the war was now over. My God the total inhumanity of leaving corpses to rot without even an attempt to find the family. We as a nation are better than that.
    respectfully,
    Nap 12 lb'r
     
  14. Nathanb1

    Nathanb1 Brigadier General Moderator Forum Host

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  15. Shadow9216

    Shadow9216 First Sergeant

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    Couldn't agree more! And if it's any consolation, I think we as Americans have done better since then- the Joint POW-MIA Recovery teams are amazing- the lengths they go to looking for the smallest traces of our MIAs/KIAs in order to bring them home is astonishing. Our professional creed (see my signature block) "Leave No Man Behind" speaks to the dedication we have to our servicemembers and the desire to make sure even our dead are returned home to rest in peace.

    It's a national shame that we didn't extend that to our brothers during the Civil War (on both sides), but sometimes the "niceties" are overlooked; I believe, however, that we took that sense of shame and outrage to heart and resolved to do better in the future.
     
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  16. kbear

    kbear Private

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    Forgive me if someone has already pointed this out as I may have missed it but with regards to Arlington - there are Confederate soldiers buried there - a good number too if I recall.
     
  17. CSA Today

    CSA Today Major

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    I had to think about this a moment, but I basically agree, each side deserves their honored space. While it is the lot of the living to decide where to bury the dead they should not be so presumptuous as to bury enemies in life indiscriminately – I hope, at least, they buried the respected sides in separate sections of the cemetery. I feel that whenever possible the war dead buried in a hostile land should be returned to their native soil –I am so glad the Confederate dead at Gettysburg were.

    “No country ever had truer sons, No people-bolder defenders, No principle – purer victims”
    I
    nscribed on the Confederate Monument in front of the Marlboro County Court House in Bennettsville, South Carolina
     
  18. kbear

    kbear Private

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    I only wish there was information available regarding those soldier reinterred from Gettysburg to Hollywood as one of my soldiers that I am researching is likely among them.
     

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