Miss identifying remains during the war

33rdVaCoB

Private
Joined
Dec 10, 2014
Hello everyone, how it was possible to miss identify a soldiers remains during the war ? In our local cemetery there are several dead confederate soldiers. One by the name Julius Cox of Co C 14th N.C infantry. But on the roster he doesn't exist . The was a Charles Cox but no julius. How is that possible ?

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John Winn

Major
Joined
Mar 13, 2014
Location
State of Jefferson
Dead soldiers were often quickly buried in unmarked graves or just left on the battlefield. Some purchased dog-tag-like IDs but only a few did that and those on burial detail might not have looked very closely. Often, it wasn't until after the war that remains were removed to cemeteries. Many bodies were just thrown into large mass graves. There's thousands of unknowns buried in national cemeteries. It wasn't pretty.

As to rosters, mistakes in spelling and omission are common. Things just weren't all that precise. In the case of Confederate records, many were also lost or burned so there could be gaps in a service record.
 
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Ole Miss

Captain
Forum Host
Regtl. Staff Shiloh 2020
Joined
Dec 9, 2017
Location
North Mississippi
My GGGrandfather was captured and sent to Harts Island POW camp where he died
Despite detailed prison records he was buried in a National Cemetery with his last name misspelled.
Humans are fallible. Mistakes were made and since the South lost, their dead were not as carefully Identified as Union soldiers
Just part of life
Regards
David
 

Rhea Cole

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Nov 2, 2019
Location
Murfreesboro, Tennessee
One of my g-g-greats had a last name that could be spelled several ways. I should say was spelled several ways. As a result, he is on regimental records as three people, at least. He was a farrier, so is also listed as a civilian or soldier in several Confederate cavalry regiments. He is the poster boy for how scrambled Civil War records can be.

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Southeast corner of Stones River National Cemetery where Union Casualties from the Battle of Franklin are buried.
Small white marble blocks with numbers on the top mark the graves of unknowns.
photo by author

I volunteer at Stones River National Battlefield. The National Cemetery at Stones River is one of the three originals that General George Thomas created in 1865. Very few of the graves in the cemetery are the first one where the remains were interred. Under the supervision of a chaplain, the 111th USCT collected the remains of Union soldiers from far away as seventy miles.

The casualties from Franklin were interred & disinterred three times. A trench burial behind a hospital had records of the names of the men buried there, but no record of which body belonged to that name. Most of the unknowns at Stones River National Cemetery fall into that category. Their death was recorded, but there was no way to identify the remains.

When an inspector general surveyed Forrest's command in 1864 (if memory serves) a number of the regiments on his books did not exist on the Confederate Army roster. Many of the men in those units had deserted from infantry regiments. As you might expect, an unknowable number of them had joined the cavalry under nomes de guerre. That is one way a man can be on the muster roll of two regiments, or be on the roll of a regiment that does not exist on the official rosters.

Here is an example of a headstone with an error on it. For two decades my family & I have participated in the Hallowed Ground lantern tour of Stones River Cemetery. We portrayed the family of a soldier named Spencer Sober, Ohio. His headstone reads Spencer Saber, Ohio. He had originally been buried by his comrades near the brigade headquarters in Murfreesboro. His marker would have been made of wood. Nobody knows when the error in spelling his name occurred. The documentation spells his name correctly. The National Park Service considers the headstone a historical artifact, so will not change it. In a cemetery run by the VA, it would be changed. When you look at the hand written records, it is a wonder that half the headstones don't have typos.

The story of the creation of the cemetery & the collection of the remains by the 111th USCT's is the subject of living history & Ranger led programs at the park. There is a Confederate mass grave in a local cemetery. A committee of local ladies had remains were gathered from trench burials & hospitals to a plot of land on the south side of Murfreesboro. There were a substantial number of known individuals marked at that site. It was decided to move them to a new, fashionable, cemetery. The men doing the work were paid very little & were not supervised properly. None of the remains were identified, so it is a mass grave now.

As long as I am on the subject, the face is the first part of the body to deteriorate. That is because of the number of openings that allow insects to enter the body. For that reason, a body might be all but intact, but still be very difficult to identify. I have a period advertisement for a process that restores the facial features of deceased soldiers. It sounds preposterous, but who knows. I will have to dig that one out if I can & post it here.

I assume this is more answer than you expected. I recommend This Republic of Suffering, Death & Dying During the Civil War it is the best source on the subject that I know of. Believe it or not, it is also an excellent read.
 
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huskerblitz

Captain
Joined
Jun 8, 2013
Location
Nebraska
Hello everyone, how it was possible to miss identify a soldiers remains during the war ? In our local cemetery there are several dead confederate soldiers. One by the name Julius Cox of Co C 14th N.C infantry. But on the roster he doesn't exist . The was a Charles Cox but no julius. How is that possible ?

View attachment 350420
Could you provide more information on the location and cemetery? Could help in solving the mystery more.
 

Stone in the wall

Sergeant Major
Joined
Sep 19, 2017
Location
Blue Ridge Mountains, Jefferson County WV
I think I found the info I was asking about. This is from Confederate Veteran #20

View attachment 352208

Glad you posted this, as I to was wondering where this was. Middleway was called Smithfield during the war, and also known as "Wizards Clip". Legend has it in 1790's a traveler lodged over night with the Adams Livingston family. The traveler died, calling for a priest. Livingston refused to let a priest into his home. After the burial Livingston started to see disturbing supernatural phenomena, heads and legs falling off chickens, crockery suddenly falling to the floor, and there was a constant clipping sound like sissors. Any one entering the house would have their cloths cut. Livingston dreamed about a priest. In nearby Shepherdstown he found Father Dennis Cahill who exorcised the spirit and the family converted to Catholicism. Afterwards they would hear a voice that provided advice, and tell them to pray and be better Catholics.
 
Joined
May 12, 2018
Confederate’s weren’t identified any worse than Union soldiers... it sucked regardless of your persuasion. The Army was a 19th century beauroceacy and that meant a lot of different people writing down stuff that they had no first hand knowledge of. Transcription errors and simple factual errors abounded. Then there’s Ohio, which didn’t write up a roster till twenty years after the war... I used to say it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on!

It’s frankly a miracle anyone was accurately identified post mortem given the state of forensics (practically nonexistent) at the time. That’s why men got tattoos of their names on them or bought ID disks.
 

bankerpapaw

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Dec 26, 2007
Location
Rome, Georgia
Even looking into your Family Tree and the Census Records names were misspelled. And trying to read their handwriting is another challenge. After the trauma of battle, I can see why there was so much confusion.
 
Joined
May 12, 2018
My conclusion upon researching veterans records for the Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Monument was that the answer to the question of “how did they read each other’s elaborate handwriting back then” was “poorly”. So many errors that were clearly just “I dunno what that’s supposed to say... maybe?...”. Made me feel a little better about not being able to read it either!
 

Fairfield

Sergeant
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
Mistakes like that happened everywhere. One of the problems that I've encountered in Maine is men who were known by their middle names (or sometimes nicknames). They were buried under the name that their comrades knew--and not the official name on the roster.
 

Gizmologist

Cadet
Joined
Dec 13, 2019
One of my 3rd GGF is mis-ID'ed on his headstone and in burial records. This forum was the place that solved the mystery. Harrison Jackson Miller served in Co. E of the 125th Illinois. He died on 15 JAN 1865 of smallpox in Savannah, GA shortly after Sherman's army arrived at the sea. Army death records only list him as "Miller, H J" and correctly ID his company and unit. From there he went missing. Given the desire to prevent the spreading of the fatal disease, I suspect that he was buried swiftly. After a great deal of looking over a couple of years, I posted here looking for help to find Harrison's grave. In short order, I was pointed to a grave about 20 miles from Savannah in Beaufort, SC in the National Cemetery. The head stone reads "J H Miller, ILL" Burial records state that this is the grave of "James H Miller" of the 123rd Illinois and lists the DoD as 15 JAN 1865. The Company is listed as unknown. Based on this lead I was given, I checked the muster rolls of the 123rd for someone that might match up with this grave and found no one with either a given name that started with a "J" or "H" that died in that region around that time. I also looked for other "Millers" that perished on, or near, that date in the region from any unit and found no others. Based on the process of elimination, I think it's safe to say that we've found Harrison. It appears that the "5" in his unit was misread as a "3" and his initials were reversed. I have no idea where the "James" came from, but perhaps someone said along the way "I think his name was James..." and "Not sure what company he was from."
 

Fairfield

Sergeant
Joined
Dec 5, 2019
One of my 3rd GGF is mis-ID'ed on his headstone and in burial records. This forum was the place that solved the mystery. Harrison Jackson Miller served in Co. E of the 125th Illinois. He died on 15 JAN 1865 of smallpox in Savannah, GA shortly after Sherman's army arrived at the sea. Army death records only list him as "Miller, H J" and correctly ID his company and unit. From there he went missing. Given the desire to prevent the spreading of the fatal disease, I suspect that he was buried swiftly. After a great deal of looking over a couple of years, I posted here looking for help to find Harrison's grave. In short order, I was pointed to a grave about 20 miles from Savannah in Beaufort, SC in the National Cemetery. The head stone reads "J H Miller, ILL" Burial records state that this is the grave of "James H Miller" of the 123rd Illinois and lists the DoD as 15 JAN 1865. The Company is listed as unknown. Based on this lead I was given, I checked the muster rolls of the 123rd for someone that might match up with this grave and found no one with either a given name that started with a "J" or "H" that died in that region around that time. I also looked for other "Millers" that perished on, or near, that date in the region from any unit and found no others. Based on the process of elimination, I think it's safe to say that we've found Harrison. It appears that the "5" in his unit was misread as a "3" and his initials were reversed. I have no idea where the "James" came from, but perhaps someone said along the way "I think his name was James..." and "Not sure what company he was from."
Very well done! The penchant for use of initials (rather than full names) caused a lot of mix-ups--as well as the haste with which burials were done. You did more detective work than most and I'm so glad that you found an answer; I'll bet that the confusion regarding Harrison Jackson Miller occurred again & again.
 

lupaglupa

Sergeant Major
Forum Host
Joined
Apr 18, 2019
I see switched initials a lot in records - census, military, even family things. It seems that people were less concerned with the order of names back in the day. It is common to see someone called both by the first and middle name and to have the two switched at various times.
 
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