The Last Moments of Civil War Soldiers

civilwartalk

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Published on Jan 23, 2019

While it is easy to think of those who fought in the Civil War as just statistics on a page, it is important to remember that each soldier was a person whose death impacted others. Join Garry Adelman as he gives four documented accounts of the last moments of Civil War soldiers.
 

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#4

Published on Jan 23, 2019

While it is easy to think of those who fought in the Civil War as just statistics on a page, it is important to remember that each soldier was a person whose death impacted others. Join Garry Adelman as he gives four documented accounts of the last moments of Civil War soldiers.
My gosh we can only imagine. Thanks for this great reminder to remember the individuals that gave all with honor.
 

ErnieMac

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Patrick H

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Yep. I have NEVER forgotten that these boys were real human beings. I can't imagine the grief of wives or mothers whose young men simply never came home. No closure, no farewell letter, no report from the senior officer. No nothing. Just emptiness. And I have often imagined myself bleeding out or dying of a disease in some foreign roadside ditch a couple of hundred miles from home--mortally wounded or ignored by a guy who might have been my fishing buddy in happier times. That war was awful.
 
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Thanks for that.

Unfortunately the Civil War is often heavily romanticized in public memory. The more reminders we get that the war was horror, like all wars - the better.

"Dead horses were everywhere; a few disabled caissons, or limbers, reclining on one elbow, as it were; ammunition wagons standing disconsolate behind four or six sprawling mules. Men? There were men enough; all dead, apparently, except one, who lay near where I had halted my platoon to await the slower movement of the line—a Federal sergeant, variously hurt, who had been a fine giant in his time. He lay face upward, taking in his breath in convulsive, rattling snorts, and blowing it out in sputters of froth which crawled creamily down his cheeks, piling itself alongside his neck and ears. A bullet had clipped a groove in his skull, above the temple; from this the brain protruded in bosses, dropping off in flakes and strings. I had not previously known one could get on, even in this unsatisfactory fashion, with so little brain. One of my men, whom I knew for a womanish fellow, asked if he should put his bayonet through him. Inexpressibly shocked by the cold-blooded proposal, I told him I thought not; it was unusual, and too many were looking."



"The dense forests wholly or partly in which were fought so many battles of the Civil War, lay upon the earth in each autumn a thick deposit of dead leaves and stems, the decay of which forms a soil of surprising depth and richness. In dry weather the upper stratum is as inflammable as tinder. A fire once kindled in it will spread with a slow, persistent advance as far as local conditions permit, leaving a bed of light ashes beneath which the less combustible accretions of previous years will smolder until extinguished by rains. In many of the engagements of the war the fallen leaves took fire and roasted the fallen men. At Shiloh, during the first day’s fighting, wide tracts of woodland were burned over in this way and scores of wounded who might have recovered perished in slow torture. I remember a deep ravine a little to the left and rear of the field I have described, in which, by some mad freak of heroic incompetence, a part of an Illinois regiment had been surrounded, and refusing to surrender was destroyed, as it very well deserved. My regiment having at last been relieved at the guns and moved over to the heights above this ravine for no obvious purpose, I obtained leave to go down into the valley of death and gratify a reprehensible curiosity.

Forbidding enough it was in every way. The fire had swept every superficial foot of it, and at every step I sank into ashes to the ankle. It had contained a thick undergrowth of young saplings, every one of which had been severed by a bullet, the foliage of the prostrate tops being afterward burnt and the stumps charred. Death had put his sickle into this thicket and fire had gleaned the field. Along a line which was not that of extreme depression, but was at every point significantly equidistant from the heights on either hand, lay the bodies, half buried in ashes; some in the unlovely looseness of attitude denoting sudden death by the bullet, but by far the greater number in postures of agony that told of the tormenting flame. Their clothing was half burnt away—their hair and beard entirely; the rain had come too late to save their nails. Some were swollen to double girth; others shriveled to manikins. According to degree of exposure, their faces were bloated and black or yellow and shrunken. The contraction of muscles which had given them claws for hands had cursed each countenance with a hideous grin. Faugh! I cannot catalogue the charms of these gallant gentlemen who had got what they enlisted for."

What I Saw of Shiloh
 
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This is from the aftermath of the Battle of Chickamauga:

"In February, 1864, I was detailed to collect supplies for the army and gathered up beef, cattle, sheep, hogs, goats and corn, or anything that the army would need for food. The first of April the army was ordered back to Virginia where we arrived on May 7th and fought the battle of the Wilderness. Our company lost heavily here. I was not in the battle but rejoined the company soon after the battle was over. After this we continued skirmishing until Oct. 7, 1864, when we attacked the enemy's bulwarks ten miles east of Richmond. Here a Yankee bullet struck me just below the knee, breaking the bone. I was captured, taken to the field hospital, and my leg was amputated. Was then taken to the Federal hospital near Petersburg where I was well treated by good, kind nurses. Was taken to Fortress Monroe where I remained seven months before I was able to travel.

While in the hospital I saw the horrible side of war. Although I was kindly treated I suffered much and the groans of the wounded were never out of my ears day or night.

Then came news of the surrender with thoughts of home and the lost cause, and of my condition, being 1,200 miles from home and in the hands of the enemy. I don't see how I lived through it all. I got my discharge on the 27th of May, 1865, and arrived home on the 17th of October of that year.
"

- Pvt. J. Pinkney O'Rear, Company D, 1st Texas Infantry

(Private O'Rear was among the relative few original, surviving members of John Bell Hood's Texas Brigade. He fought in many of the great battles of the war and penned his reminiscence in the early 19th century.

"Pink" O'Rear was my grandmother's Granddad. His full story contains just a bit of well earned bravado, but mostly, it's a story of suffering).
 
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Sobering video clip

"The next day we sent in a flag of truce to ask the privelige of burying our dead. It was now I again saw Billy Hegan but oh! how different, he that was but yesterday so full of life, vigour, and health, was now only a mass of mouldering ruins, struck down in the bloom of life loved and beloved by all who knew him. The fatal ball had pearced the center of his forehead......One Sergeant Major of a Regt who relieved us was shot through the heart directly [illegible] at before the enimy, he was a fine looking young man. I slept on the battle field with a few feet of his grave. But the moment of victory was glorious."
John T. Harrington, Sgt-Major 22nd Ky
 

JPK Huson 1863

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Agree the war gets romanticized, how is a puzzle. Read where aid workers coming into Gettysburg had a tough time with the horses- splashing through blood isn't something they like. THAT much blood. You can't wrap your head around it.

These last words bring it home, don't they? Civilian account from Gettysburg, woman trying to do what she could for a wounded man on her porch described the poor kid, a very young soldier. She said he said " Angel hands ", then died. Chills.
 



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