Confederate Burial Trenches at Shiloh NMP

James N.

Colonel
Forum Host
Annual Winner
Featured Book Reviewer
Asst. Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
Joined
Feb 23, 2013
Location
East Texas
dsc06122-jpg.jpg


The mass graves of Confederate soldiers killed at Shiloh and interred right after the battle in burial trenches of varying size have their own peculiar fascination and brooding sadness. There are five such marked, and during my recent visit to the battlefield I managed to locate and photograph four of them. They are all marked by metal signs like the one above, placed when Shiloh National Military Park was first created at the turn of the Twentieth Century.

dsc06101-jpg.jpg


The first we visited, shown in the photos above and the two below, is accessible by a short trail leading from the NPS parking lot at Rhea Field for Rhea Springs which feed Shiloh Branch.

dsc06102-jpg.jpg


Below, another view of the first trench containing an unknown number of dead. This trench is located immediately south of Rhea Field at the edge of the woods from which Confederate attacks were launched on Sherman's camps the morning of April 6, 1862.

dsc06103-jpg.jpg


dsc06104-jpg.jpg


This second one pictured above and in two photos below is in the woods near Sherman's Headquarters and Shiloh Church and can be reached by another trail from Rhea Field/Rhea Springs near the new Mississippi State Monument. The trail crosses Shiloh Branch on a little bridge and proceeds up a fairly steep grade into the woods here.

dsc06105-jpg.jpg


dsc06107-jpg.jpg


The Rea Springs Burial Trench above is noticeably smaller than the first one pictured.

dsc06121-jpg.jpg


Smaller even is this third one, the only one on an "official" NPS Tour Stop, No. 11 at the intersection of the historic Pittsburg-Savannah Road and Jones Field Road. This is only a short distance in front of the Pittsburg Landing Road that served as Grant's Last Line on April 6 from which he counterattacked on the following morning. There is a small pull over; the trench can easily be seen from the park road.

dsc06127-jpg.jpg


This fourth Burial Trench seen here is a fairly large one - according to reports as many as 700 Confederate soldiers, both officers and enlisted men, were stacked like cordwood, layer atop layer, in the largest of these. This one is easily accessible via a short loop drive just off the historic Corinth Road near Tour Stop 13 at its intersection with the Hamburg-Purdy Road and Water Oaks Pond. (The fifth identified and marked trench is located in the woods nearby just a little north of this; the locations of all five of them are shown on the NPS park brochure.)

dsc06129-jpg.jpg


As can be seen in the photo below, originally the Federal dead were also interred in burial trenches; the difference was that they were often buried by members of their own units in trenches containing only members of specific units and therefore much more likely to be identified. These graves were opened and the remains transferred to the National Cemetery in the years immediately following the war, but rumor has it that some were missed and remain to be discovered.

dsc06128-jpg.jpg
 
Last edited:

James N.

Colonel
Forum Host
Annual Winner
Featured Book Reviewer
Asst. Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
Joined
Feb 23, 2013
Location
East Texas
Isn't there supposedly several more burial trenches whose locations have never been uncovered?
According to a talk I had with one of the rangers and a local friend of his there are at least two believed to be known; but there could be over a dozen additional unmarked Confederate burial trenches and an unknown number of possible as yet undiscovered Union burial sites. Union soldiers appear to have largely been buried by members of their own units in the aftermath of the battle, separated into smaller plots or trenches by unit or state. Within the National Cemetery there are sections of unknowns identified at least by state; these must have ben gathered from the field that way when the cemetery was created around 1866. There's even one of those Union burial trench markers ATOP one of the Indian mounds alongside the Tennessee River!
 
Last edited:

Ole Miss

Captain
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Regtl. Staff Shiloh 2020
Joined
Dec 9, 2017
Location
North Mississippi
The burial trenches provoke a feeling of sadness beyond the National Cemetery for me. The soldiers in these trenches were sorta like throw a ways in they were left piled atop of each other as compared to the effort to remove the remains of the Federals to the National Cemetery. I understand why this occurred yet I am moved by this action.

The only other battlefield that moves me as emotionally is the Little Bighorn National Battlefield with the individual markers for where Custer's troops supposedly fell, though highly questioned by historians and archaeologists as being accurate.
Regards
David
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Not to be rude, but I have never heard of doing this. Is there a reason, or is it just a thing you do?


I still see pennies on graves, all over cemeteries here in this part of PA. Doesn't seem to matter how old or recent is the burial? Always assumed it to be a token of respect, although people may have various, other reasons? That would be a good thread, where everyone has left pennies, and why.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
As can be seen in the photo below, originally the Federal dead were also interred in burial trenches; the difference was that they were often buried by members of their own units in trenches containing only members of specific units and therefore much more likely to be identified. These graves were opened and the remains transferred to the National Cemetery in the years immediately following the war, but rumor has it that some were missed and remain to


These numbers are staggering, had no clue so many men were buried together. Makes it seem a little silly, still looking for a single Union grave. Sam, JPK's brother had just re-enlisted in his regiment, 14th Illinois when killed there. We have the letter from a friend, saying he'd just come from burying Sam on the battlefield. It was marked, must be one of those instances where his name was lost somewhere, a number of unidentified men of the 14th Illinois in the National Cemetery.

Still. We probably know at least where he is, unlike these hundreds in one grave. Hard to wrap your head around. Thanks very much for the thread, and reminder.
 

James N.

Colonel
Forum Host
Annual Winner
Featured Book Reviewer
Asst. Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
Joined
Feb 23, 2013
Location
East Texas
These numbers are staggering, had no clue so many men were buried together. Makes it seem a little silly, still looking for a single Union grave. Sam, JPK's brother had just re-enlisted in his regiment, 14th Illinois when killed there. We have the letter from a friend, saying he'd just come from burying Sam on the battlefield. It was marked, must be one of those instances where his name was lost somewhere, a number of unidentified men of the 14th Illinois in the National Cemetery.

Still. We probably know at least where he is, unlike these hundreds in one grave. Hard to wrap your head around. Thanks very much for the thread, and reminder.
As you can see from the Union grave marker this seems to have been the norm; the famous Alexander Gardner Gettysburg photos of dead Confederates laid out in rows by their own comrades and left in haste when their units pulled out on July 4 were destined for the same treatment. As I noted, the main differences between how they were treated depended on whichever side retained possession of the battlefield. "Friendly" dead were buried in long rows, often by members of their own units, sometimes with headboards identifying those interred, while enemy dead were tumbled unceremoniously into a trench, often several rows piled one atop the other. Of course in cases like that there was no attempt at identification other than as one Union Shiloh vet recalled, a single board with the inscription "125 Dead Rebels Here."
 

James N.

Colonel
Forum Host
Annual Winner
Featured Book Reviewer
Asst. Regtl. Quartermaster Antietam 2021
Joined
Feb 23, 2013
Location
East Texas
DSC06106.JPG


Here's another example of a Shiloh Union Burial Trench site marker, this one for members of the 43rd Illinois. Since the Federals on April 7 only recaptured their camps back from the Confederates who retreated all the way to Corinth, they had plenty of time and the opportunity to locate many if not most of their own dead and bury them in separate trenches like this one the following day or so. Note that it even states how many - 35 bodies - were found here and removed to the nat'l cemetery. I photographed this one because unlike the others I saw it has sunk into the ground and its outlines are plainly evident.
 
Last edited:

RochesterBill

Corporal
Joined
Oct 11, 2016
I still see pennies on graves, all over cemeteries here in this part of PA. Doesn't seem to matter how old or recent is the burial? Always assumed it to be a token of respect, although people may have various, other reasons? That would be a good thread, where everyone has left pennies, and why.

Boy, I love it when someone asks a question I know the answer to.

Its a custom that began with Vietnam veterans but is now more or less traditional for anyone killed in any war.

A penny left on the gravestone is a message to the family of the deceased that you visited and paid your respects.

A nickel means that you knew the deceased in boot camp.

A dime means that you served in combat with him.

A quarter tells the family you were with him when he was killed.

So of course you only see pennies on CW graves.

Military cemetaries go around and collect the coins every now and then with the money always going for grave maintenance and beautification.
 
Last edited:
Joined
Mar 6, 2011
I remember riding across that wooden bridge over Shiloh branch many years ago as my cavalry reenactment unit went to a flag dedication at the burial trench. As we sat there mounted in formation I had a little while to take in what I was looking at.
It was hard to fathom that about 700 bodies could be placed in an area that small. It was a feeling and an experience I have not forgotten.
 

Zella

1st Lieutenant
Joined
May 23, 2018
I had forgotten this, but I remember seeing pennies on William Faulkner's grave when I visited it a few of years ago. (There was also a bunch of liquor bottles since people like to leave him his favorite whiskey.) I hadn't realized the significance until now. It seems a bit odd in his situation, considering he died in his 60s at home.
 

Coonewah Creek

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 1, 2018
Location
Northern Alabama
I had forgotten this, but I remember seeing pennies on William Faulkner's grave when I visited it a few of years ago. (There was also a bunch of liquor bottles since people like to leave him his favorite whiskey.) I hadn't realized the significance until now. It seems a bit odd in his situation, considering he died in his 60s at home.

Interesting...you know, William Clark Falkner was the first Colonel of the 2nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment (his great-grandson, William Cuthbert Faulkner, added the "u" to the last name). His book character, Colonel John Sartoris, was supposedly based on his real-life great-grandfather. Falkner was beat out by Captain John Marshall Stone during the regimental elections in April, 1862, went back to Mississippi and raised the 1st Mississippi Partisan Rangers.
 

Zella

1st Lieutenant
Joined
May 23, 2018
Interesting...you know, William Clark Falkner was the first Colonel of the 2nd Mississippi Infantry Regiment (his great-grandson, William Cuthbert Faulkner, added the "u" to the last name). His book character, Colonel John Sartoris, was supposedly based on his real-life great-grandfather. Falkner was beat out by Captain John Marshall Stone during the regimental elections in April, 1862, went back to Mississippi and raised the 1st Mississippi Partisan Rangers.
Thanks--that's very interesting! I knew Sartoris was inspired by a Faulkner ancestor but wasn't 100% sure on the details. Love me some Faulkner! At the time I was reading him and got to travel to Mississippi to see his old stomping grounds, I wasn't very knowledgeable about the Civil War. Would love to go back and see all those sights and add some Civil War sites to my itinerary. :smile:
 

Coonewah Creek

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 1, 2018
Location
Northern Alabama
Thanks--that's very interesting! I knew Sartoris was inspired by a Faulkner ancestor but wasn't 100% sure on the details. Love me some Faulkner! At the time I was reading him and got to travel to Mississippi to see his old stomping grounds, I wasn't very knowledgeable about the Civil War. Would love to go back and see all those sights and add some Civil War sites to my itinerary. :smile:

I think my favorite Civil War-related Faulkner passage comes from "Intruder in the Dust":

"...For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two o'clock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armistead and Wilcox look grave yet it's going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose than all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago;..."
 
Joined
Sep 28, 2013
Location
Southwest Mississippi
Boy, I love it when someone asks a question I know the answer to.

Its a custom that began with Vietnam veterans but is now more or less traditional for anyone killed in any war.

A penny left on the gravestone is a message to the family of the deceased that you visited and paid your respects.

A nickel means that you knew the deceased in boot camp.

A dime means that you served in combat with him.

A quarter tells the family you were with him when he was killed.

So of course you only see pennies on CW graves.

Military cemetaries go around and collect the coins every now and then with the money always going for grave maintenance and beautification.
Thanks for the explanation.

I honestly never knew those facts, but I've always wondered about the coins left on Veteran's graves.
 

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Feb 14, 2012
Location
Central Pennsylvania
Boy, I love it when someone asks a question I know the answer to.

Its a custom that began with Vietnam veterans but is now more or less traditional for anyone killed in any war.

A penny left on the gravestone is a message to the family of the deceased that you visited and paid your respects.

A nickel means that you knew the deceased in boot camp.

A dime means that you served in combat with him.

A quarter tells the family you were with him when he was killed.

So of course you only see pennies on CW graves.

Military cemetaries go around and collect the coins every now and then with the money always going for grave maintenance and beautification.


Yes, thank you so much! Makes it more likely I'll remember to bring pennies, had no idea. That's such a terrific piece of information, maybe it should have its own thread?
 

Ole Miss

Captain
Forum Host
Silver Patron
Regtl. Staff Shiloh 2020
Joined
Dec 9, 2017
Location
North Mississippi
Zella and Coon
I sure hope y'all had a wonderful visit when last in Oxford. Please contact me when you plan your next visit and I love to be a guide and show you the Oxford, University area as well as North Mississippi.
Faulkner was a character and the gifts on his grave reflects the visitors who come to Oxford because of him.
Regards
David
 
Last edited:
Top