Discussion Some Confederates were buried alive soon after the Battle of Jonesboro, Ga. on 1 Sep 1864...

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Jan 29, 2019
I came across this Federal account, of burying the dead as well as the dying, the other day while researching some of the battles in which my Confederate ancestors took part. Once I read it I was immediately bothered, because I had several ancestors fighting that battle on that day, and I know that two of them were recorded as being killed in action and laid to rest where they were killed during the battle of Jonesboro. Then some months - years after the war they were later reinterred at what is now the Confederate rest portion of the city cemetery now.

Below is what was written by John McElroy (U.S. Army), regarding the Battle of Jonesboro. The excerpt below was found in the Book: "Andersonville: A Story of Rebel Military Prisons" by John McElroy circa 1879 (Chapter LVI pages 442-443), based largely from his daily Journal entries during the event:

"We gradually forced our way over the works, but the Rebels were game to the last, and we had to make them surrender almost one at a time. . . The artillerymen tried to fire on us when we were so close we could lay our hands on the guns. Finally nearly all in the works surrendered, and were disarmed and marched back. Just then an aid came dashing up with the information that we must turn the works, and get ready to receive Hardee, who was advancing to retake the position. We snatched up some shovels lying near, and began work. We had no time to remove the dead and dying Rebels on the works, and the dirt we threw covered them up. It proved a false alarm. Hardee had as much as he could do to save his own hide, and the affair ended about dark."

Basically, the Federals in haste, buried both dead and dying Confederates after the Battle of Jonesboro, in an urgent effort to meet a presumed impending attack by Hardee, which never materialized. I have long held the impression that after the battles were waged, that both sides would allow time for each army to gather up their dead and wounded and properly attend to them. Then if necessary they would bury the dead in a mass grave and move on. But after doing considerably more research, I find that it was often during large scaled battles, that some dead would be left where they died in the trenches, with others thrown in on top of them, and then dirt thrown over all of them to bury them. This being a quick solution to keep diseases from spreading throughout the areas where the battles were waged. It was also the quickest way to bury so many with the least amount of effort, as the trenches were already dug, so all that would be necessary would be to fill in the areas where the dead were left or thrown on top of one another. But I had not heard of any being buried alive, albeit still dying, until I read the Federal account above from John McElroy.

Now I can not help but wonder if one or both of my ancestors who fell that day at Jonesboro, were dead when they were buried or perhaps still dying... The next time that I visit the Confederate rest section at the Jonesboro City Cemetery, I believe that I will view it with a much more profound perspective now.
 
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Aug 2, 2019
Are you sure the chapter you're reading is by John McElroy and not someone else? He does have a couple chapters by other soldiers in his Andersonville book. What makes me wonder is that McElroy was with the 16th Illinois Cavalry and I've never heard of him being with the Fourteenth Ohio.

As far as McElroy goes, I wouldn't trust him any further than I could throw him. I have book coming out this month on the Andersonville Raiders and there's a whole chapter devoted to discrediting McElroy's version of events. He wrote that several Raiders, led by Curtis, tried to assassinate Leroy Key, who bluffs them into retreating with an unloaded pistol; Key's own account, given in several newspapers after his 1864 release, says that he was confronted by Curtis and a handful of others who demanded to know if the band he was putting together was to "clear out" the Irish. When Key replies that it's to go after the Raiders, Curtis reportedly shakes his hand and lets him go. McElroy asserts that the Raiders were all bounty jumpers and deserters, when in fact, the six men hanged served an average of just over 12 months before being captured. McElroy says that the Confederate prison authorities did nothing to help quell the Raiders' crime spree when the Raiders were arrested with the assistance of prison guards, and there were two "General Orders" numbers 57 and 61 issued by General John Winder authorizing the trial and execution. McElroy goes as far as to have prison commandant Henry Wirz say "I haf had nutting to do wit it," as he hands over the raiders for execution, a statement that no earlier account of Wirz's speech included.

War is a horrible, awful thing, and I can't speak to the events at Jonesboro, but if John McElroy is the only source you have for these events, I would approach it critically rather than as gospel. He tells a really good tale, but also tends to "not let the facts get in the way of a good story."
 
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Gary Morgan, It appears by what he wrote that he was speaking specifically of the men of the Thirty-Eighth Ohio and Seventy-fourth Indiana, who in his words leading up to the event that I posted in my OP; "put in some work that was just magnificent. We hadn’t time to look at it then, but the dead and wounded piled up after the fight told the story."

In the link below you will find the excerpt from his book (circa 1879); "Andersonville: A Story of Rebel Military Prisons" on page 442-443:


I do not really know much of John McElroy, other than what I read of him in the above referenced book, circa 1879. So I can not speak on him being credible or not. It is possible that he exaggerated his story, or not... and was honest about his characterization of events. If it is true it would be a sad state of affairs, but in the words of Sherman: "war is hell." Wars are primarily fought not to save the enemy but rather to kill him.
 
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Fairfield

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I'd hazard a guess that this happened more than once and on both sides. Not intentionally but by one's own side. Sometimes time was so pressing that soldiers (trying to be respectful) may not have been as thorough as might be. The soldiers themselves usually had no medical training and mistakes were made. I've been reading the journals of Abner Small who was then with one of the Maine Infantry regiments; after Bull Run, he was sitting with a dying friend in a hospital tent. The friend died and the medical people were pulling Small away--when the dead man sat up and spoke! Clearly he wasn't dead. If medical personnel could make a mistake like that, you can imagine what happened on the field with enemy troops bearing down!
 
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I'd hazard a guess that this happened more than once and on both sides.
You are correct... now that I think about it, I seem to recall there being allegations made against Nathan Bedford Forrest after the Massacre at Fort Pillow (12 Apr 1864) regarding black soldiers being killed after surrendering, an instance of a soldier being burned to death, and various accounts of men buried alive (Federal soldiers). So maybe this was a thing....

Below is a great article, as short as it may be, which describes Civil War burials after the battles were waged, and who did the burying.


The excerpt below regarding the burials of the Gettysburg dead speaks volumes:

“The sights and smells that assailed us were simply indescribable—corpses swollen to twice their original size, some of them actually burst asunder with the pressure of foul gases and vapors…The odors were nauseating and so deadly that in a short time we all sickened…most of us vomiting profusely.”
 
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dlofting

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I don't know how common inadvertently burying a person alive was in the Civil War era, outside of combat, but I do know that some graves were equipped with a bell on a pole, with a pull string. The idea was that if the "deceased" woke up in a coffin they could ring the bell to alert anyone who happened to be nearby.
 
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I don't know how common inadvertently burying a person alive was in the Civil War era, outside of combat, but I do know that some graves were equipped with a bell on a pole, with a pull string. The idea was that if the "deceased" woke up in a coffin they could ring the bell to alert anyone who happened to be nearby.

This was very prevalent in the Victorian era and was responsible for coining the term "dead ringer". There were numerous cases of people being buried in a mild state of comatose, confused with being dead, then once they were interred they would suddenly awaken and ring the bell to be dug back up. Medical Doctors would also place a mirror under the nose of a "dead body" for the same reason, to make sure that the body was not still breathing, and in fact was dead. My Grandfather told the story of such a man, who was involved in an accident and was presumed dead, and just as they were going to embalm him he suddenly awoke, screaming at the top of his lungs, recognizing that he was laid flat on a table at the coroners office. He lived for 20 more years, and the same coroner processed his body and waited for a longer period of time before embalming him, just in case he would wake up again, like the last time he was on his table.
 
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