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A blog of Nineteenth Century history, focusing, but not exclusively, on the American Civil War seen through the prism of personal accounts, newspaper stories, administrative records and global history.
A thousand tales. A miscellany. A maze of historical tangents.

A Capitol View

A Capitol View
Images of 1861 juxtaposed- Union Square, New York vs. Capitol Square, Richmond

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"For the Purpose of Superintending the Interments of Remains . . ."

The reburial program was initiated within two months of Lee's capitulation at Appomattox.  In accordance with orders issued on 7 June 1865 by Headquarters, Department of  Washington, Captain James M. More, the founder of Arlington and Battleground national cemeteries, proceeded to the battlefields of the Wilderness and Spottsylvania Court House "for the purpose of superintending the interments of remains of Union soldiers yet unburied and marking their burial places for future identification."  Similar measures were taken in the West; on 23 June General George H. Thomas, commanding the Department of the Cumberland, instructed Chaplain William Earnshaw, Superintendent of the Stones River National Cemetery, "to take charge of the work of disinterring and reinterring remains in the national cemetery at Stones River." Due, however, to excessive heat of the summer season, field operations were suspended until October of that year.
The operations conducted by Captain Moore and Chaplain Earnshaw illustrate both the similarities and differences of graves registration problems in the Virginia and western theaters. Both officers enjoyed the benefits of wide experience in burial matters both had created cemeteries and understood the complications involved in the reinterment of remains. Proceeding by way of Belle Plain, Captain Moore reached the Wilderness battlefield some 14 months after the two-day encounter between Grant and Lee. He found 'hundreds of graves...without marking whatsoever." Exposed skeletons scattered in front of the enemy's abatis offered mute testimony to the savage assaults delivered by many Union regiments. Other skeletons were found partially buried in and near the trenches. Unburied remains, it is reported, were interred in two temporary cemeteries, "where the scenes of carnage appeared to be the greatest."
Intending originally to remove all partially buried remains to a suitable site. Captain Moore encountered the same difficulty that delayed Chaplain Earnshaw's reinterment program in the Stones River area-summer heat.
Completing his reconnaissance of the Wilderness battlefield, Captain Moore went on to Spottsylvania Court House, where he identified and marked with newly-inscribed wooden tablets the graves of 700 Union soldiers. The unidentified dead were marked by tablets bearing the inscription "Unknown, U. S. Soldier. "In all, he made 1,500 identifications on both battlefields-800 in the Wilderness and 700 at Spottsylvania Court House. This total, however, was only twenty-six percent of the 5,350 fatalities suffered on these fields.

-Evolution of the National Cemetery  System 1865-1880
by Edward Steere
Quartermaster Review-May/June 1953

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