Dead Confederates At Gettysburg

A writer is suppose to explain things. But I didn’t fully explain something important in Blue, Gray & Crimson. Before you send me to “bad writer’s prison”, let me explain. The story is from an 1863 point of view, and the Westmore family can’t see into the future. Don’t remember the section I’m referring to? Here it is:

“What about Confederate soldiers’ graves?” Mother wondered aloud.

“Someone told me the Confederate graves are left untouched,” Father admitted. “If a Confederate soldier is exhumed by mistake, they rebury him there, not in the new cemetery. I don’t know what will happen to their graves.” (Blue, Gray & Crimson: A Story of Civilian Courage at Gettysburg, page 298)

So what actually happened to the graves of Confederate soldiers buried at Gettysburg? Now, since I’m writing blog posts in modern times, I can tell you. Continue reading

Gettysburg’s Relic Hunters & Tour Guides

When my family went to Gettysburg, we had an awesome tour guide who took us all over the battlefield, told us history stories, and pointed out important landmarks and monuments. After the tour, it was time to hunt through the gift-shop for a new book! (I got my copy of Bayonet Forward by Joshua L. Chamberlain there.)

Sarah Kay Bierle at Gettysburg National Battlefield (2008)

Sarah Kay Bierle at Gettysburg National Battlefield (2008)

I suppose our experience at Gettysburg was similar to what many families and tourists do, but imagine my surprise to learn that people were doing this just days after the battle ended. Today, I’d like to introduce you to the Relic Hunters and Tour Guides of 1863. Continue reading

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Loud noise travels a long way, and I’m sure you’ve experienced this in some situation. Fireworks and artillery practice on military bases are some of the best examples I can think of.

Okay, so what’s this got to do with Back To Gettysburg on Tuesday? Well, I thought it’d be interesting to share some of the long range reports of the fighting at Gettysburg. Just how far away were those cannon blasts heard? Continue reading

Gettysburg’s Problem

Many Americans are familiar with the Gettysburg Address. You know, the Lincoln speech that begins “Four score and seven years ago…” But what many people don’t realize is the circumstances leading to that famous address. Sure, they’ll connect it to the Battle of Gettysburg, but perhaps they think Lincoln showed up and started talking the day after the battle.

This month is November. In November 1863 – four and a half months after the battle – Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, so I thought we should discuss the speech and specific events surround it for the next couple weeks during “Back to Gettysburg on Tuesdays.”

The situation which led to the Gettysburg Address was created by the battle. It is a somber topic. For the sake of my readers, I have chosen to go into graphic detail, but I feel it is important to take time to remember the sacrifices and what actually brought Lincoln to Gettysburg.

The Problem

The experts tell us writers to create problems, conflicts. Then, increase the drama and lead to a climatic moment of resolution.

Gettysburg had a problem in 1863. Correction. Gettysburg had many problems during 1863 – Confederate raid, battle, wounded soldiers, limited supplies. But there was another issue compounding all of that…

Gettysburg DeadThe Dead.

When the Battle of Gettysburg ended, there were approximately 7,058 dead men in the fields. (This does not include the soldiers who were wounded and or the additional 4,000 who would die of their injuries.)

The Army’s Solution

Contrary to popular belief, the Union Army did make a serious attempt to bury their fallen comrades. The Union battle lines were mostly defensive, so their dead were near or within their lines. Thus, each regiment buried their soldiers, making attempts to mark the graves with wooden headboards.

The Confederate army had fought offensively (attacking) during Gettysburg. Their fallen were usually in open fields in front of the main Confederate positions. Therefore – to speak generally – the Confederates did not organize burial details. The Confederate dead were left in the fields.

Gettysburg DeadAfter the Union survivors had managed to clear the fields of the wounded and temporarily bury their own dead, they left the Gettysburg area.

Civilian men from the Gettysburg community volunteered to help bury the fallen Confederates. Many were buried on local farms and the graves were simple recorded as “Confederate graves” – rarely including units or names of the deceased.

The Emerging Problem

Although the Union army had made an effort to honor their dead, the burials had been hasty. The graves were shallow. The headboards were lightly carved or the information was written in pencil.

Gettysburg experienced torrential rains in the week following the battle. While the rain helped to cleanse the landscape (and probably prevented an epidemic of illness), it also opened the shallow graves. Across the Gettysburg community, frightful and unsettling scenes appeared. Decomposing bodies uncovered by the streaming water. Skeletal limbs protruding from the ground. The civilians began the awful task of trying to rebury – or at least cover – the dead.

The stench was horrible. Most civilians commented on the terrible odors in their writing. Some carried handkerchiefs sprinkled with peppermint oil and keep the cloths pressed to their faces whenever they went outside.

A Solution?

In the weeks immediately following the battle, most civilians were focused on helping the wounded or repairing the damages to their property. And yet, the sights of the shallow graves and the horrible stench was a constant reminder of the loss and suffering.

People realized something had to be done, but most were too busy to even begin thinking about a solution. However, one man hatched an idea that would solve the problem of the Gettysburg graves and would also bring honor to the fallen soldiers.

Conclusion (For Today)

Gettysburg had a serious problem. What could they do about the soldiers’ graves in their community? Was their a way to honor the dead, or would the graves be ploughed apart in the next spring’s planting?

Next week, we’ll explore David Wills’s suggested solution and build up to the moment when Mr. Lincoln stood to speak in “a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.”

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

A Big, Long List of Supplies

Box of supplies (from a Civil War Re-enactment)

Box of supplies (from a Civil War Re-enactment)

The last few weeks I’ve been sharing details about the United States Sanitary Commission and the United States Christian Commission and their work during the American Civil War. So the natural question is: what did they bring to Gettysburg?

I Have In My Hands A List

Well, here’s a list of supplies received by 1 corps hospital during a 10 day period. Keep in mind that there were about 10 corps hospitals at Gettysburg…and smaller field hospitals too. All irreverent comments in (parenthesis) are mine and certainly not in the original list.

Dried fruit – 3,500 lbs.

Lemons – 116 boxes (time to make lemonade? No, seriously, that’s what they were for)

Preserved fish (probably dried) – 3,600 lbs.

Catsup – 43 jars (that’ll go well with hot dogs – sorry, re-enactor joke)

Pickles – 400 gallons (I’ll pass, thanks…)

Canned oysters – 72 cans

Fresh eggs – 8,500 dozen (so that’s 102,000 eggs, if I understand correctly)

Concentrated milk – 12,500 lbs.

Ice – 20,000 lbs.

Fresh bread – 10,300 loaves

Crates of medicines, such as: aloe, alum, ammonia water, calomel, camphor, laudanum, & quinine

Shirts, drawers, and other clothing – 40,000 pieces (the ladies have been busy sewing!)

Sheets, blankets, mosquito nets – 11,700

Towels and napkins – 10,000

Sponges – 2,399 (love the precise counting!)

Bandages – 110 barrels (how many in a barrel is a mysterious question)

soap – 250 lbs.

crutches – 1,200 pairs

fans – 3,500 (this is the air-conditioning, guys)

bay rum – 100 bottles

candles – 350 lbs.

(This list is from “A Vast Sea of Misery” by G.A. Coco, page xvi)

So what do you think? Was the USSC and USCC successful? My mind is spinning trying to imagine collecting, transporting and distributing all that stuff to just 1 field hospital!

Maybe the better question is what didn’t they bring to Gettysburg?

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What’s your favorite item on the list?

General Buford’s Gettysburg: Such A Time As This

“No, we’re not spies,” the commander said. “I am General John Buford. These are my staff officers. We have a division of Union cavalry coming behind us on the road.” ~Excerpt from Blue, Gray & Crimson

On June 30, 1863, Union General John Buford and his cavalrymen arrived in Gettysburg. The commander’s decisions and his troops’ tenacity would be crucial to the northern cause. Buford’s previous life and military experience made him one of the best leaders for such a time as Gettysburg.

General John Buford

General John Buford

Military Training

Born in 1826, John Buford spent his childhood in Kentucky and later moved with his family to Illinois. He spent a lot of time working around horses and became a skilled rider. Buford received an appointment to West Point and graduated in 1848, just missing the Mexican War. (He graduated 16th out of 38 cadets, and some of the generals he would fight against at Gettysburg had been his friends at West Point.)

Buford served in the U.S. Dragoons (cavalry) and had frontier duty in Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, and Utah. Forming part of a “peacekeeping” expedition in Bleeding Kansas – the 1850’s battleground between abolitionists and slave holders – he must have sensed the sectional division that would tear America apart during the Civil War.

The years of equestrian combat and scouting in the west built Buford’s skill set and gave him the experience he would use during the Civil War. He also read military manuals and believed a skirmish line would be important in battlefield warfare.

In 1854 after a three year courtship, John Buford married Miss Martha “Pattie” Duke. They would have two children: James (b. 1855) and Pattie (b. 1857).

The Rising Commander

When the Civil War began, the South offered John Buford a military position, but he declined. During 1861, he served as an assistant inspector general of fortifications near Washington D.C. The following year he became a reserve commander of cavalry and fought at the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) in late August and was severely wounded.

He recovered and became chief of cavalry for the rest of 1862. When the cavalry was re-organized in the spring of 1863, Buford got a brigade which he led on a daring raid in May 1863. His skill as a raider and scout were recognized.

"Hold at All Costs" by Mort Kunstler

“Hold at All Costs” by Mort Kunstler

Buford’s Battlefield

By the Gettysburg campaign, Buford was commanding a division of Union cavalry and an artillery unit. Riding ahead of the main Union army, Buford probed the mountain passes and lightly skirmished with Confederate soldiers. He arrived in Gettysburg, heard reports from the local civilians, and spotted Confederates to the west of the town.

Using his military skills and trained eye, Buford realized that the hills near Gettysburg could provide an amazing defense position for an army. He worried what might happen if the Confederates secured the position first. (General Meade had been anticipated a defensive battle, but on a different line which was a little farther south.)

Buford determined to hold off the Confederates and, on the evening of June 30th, sent messages to the infantry commander directly behind him on the march, asking for re-enforcements in anticipation of the fight.

The fight did come. Throughout the morning of July 1st, Buford’s troops fought in a dismounted, skirmish formation, contesting every backward step of ground and forming a final defensive line along Seminary Ridge. Anxiously, Buford sent messengers, watched the fight, and scanned the roads from the vantage point of the Lutheran Seminary’s cupola, watching for infantry re-enforcements.

The infantry came and Buford withdrew his men for a few hours. The battle became an infantry and artillery fight, but when the Union lines collapsed around 4pm, Buford’s cavalry covered the retreat, and the general played a large role in calming the fearful infantrymen.

Other Union commanders agreed with Buford’s assessment of the Gettysburg high ground, and they adopted his choice as the winning defensive position for the army.

Union Cavalry Flag

Union Cavalry Flag

Though John Buford and his cavalry had “guard duty” throughout the rest of the battle, the general’s wisdom and his troops’ will to “hold this ground” helped secure the Union victory at Gettysburg.

The Last Days

During the autumn of 1863, John Buford and his cavalry accomplished several exciting raids into Confederate territory, returning as heroes. But the hard work wearied and wore down the general. His men began to notice that he did not look well.

In December, Buford – who probably had typhoid fever – left the army, intending to regain his strength at a friend’s home in Washington D.C. His condition worsened, though. John Buford died on December 16, 1863 – on his death bed he was presented with a major general’s commission from President Lincoln.

Colonel Charles S. Wainwright described Buford’s character: “Straight-forward, honest, conscientious, full of good common sense, and always to be relied on in any emergency.”

Concluding Thoughts

In the Book of Esther in the Bible, the young queen is told “…yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14) She gathers her courage, prays and fasts, and then goes to the king, begging that the lives of her people be spared. (The king grants her request…in case you didn’t know that already).

Wait a second! you might be thinking – this is “Back to Gettysburg Tuesday” so why are you mentioning an ancient Persian queen?

Because people are placed in certain locations or situations for providential reasons, and this certainly seems clear in the life of Gettysburg general, John Buford. When we consider Buford’s experience, skill, and knowledge and realize he lived only five months after the Battle of Gettysburg, we see God’s providence as He prepared John Buford for such a time as Gettysburg. He was the cavalry commander with exceptional scouting skills and the iron determination to hold a position to give his side the ground for victory.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah