Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

“Can you hang around a couple of minutes? He won’t be long.”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on September 24, 2011

It seems that, in the process of removing and burying the dead from the military hospitals around Richmond, some of those removed weren’t quite ready to go. From the Richmond Dispatch, April 28, 1862:

Burying Soldiers Prematurely.
Most, if not all, of the soldiers who die in the various, hospitals located in this city, are interred at Oakwood Cemetery, in the eastern suburbs.–It cannot be supposed that when so many men are to be attended to, that all can have that care and attention bestowed on them that they would get at home or here under more favorable auspices, consequently many become food for worms that might otherwise be living. It does seem, however, eminently proper that when, to all appearance, the poor volunteer has shuffled off this mortal coil, his body should be retained a sufficient length of time to put the truth beyond doubt. We fear this is not always done. Anxiety for the living swallows up respect for the dead, and the remains of the latter are often hurried too precipitately to the place of interment. It would seem that there should be attached to each hospital a place for the temporary deposit of those who die or are supposed to have died from disease. We are led to make those suggestions from having heard that on two occasions recently parties who were about being subject to the rites of burial in Oakwood Cemetery had signified their disapprobation of the proceeding while on their way thither. The driver of the hearse in one instance, as we hear, was horrified at the vigorous manifestations of the supposed defunct, and quickly carried him to a place where he could be released from his unpleasant predicament. In another instance, as we learn, Mr. Radford, keeper of the cemetery, having undoubted assurance, from the knocking and exclamations of the subject, opened the coffin and sent the supposed dead man back for further medical treatment. While attaching no blame to any one, the matter is mentioned in the hope that it will induce a caution that experience has abundantly shown to be necessary.

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6 Responses

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  1. H. Scott Dalton (Histry Nerd) said, on September 25, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Andy, you’ve touched on a fact of Civil War life nobody thinks about–nobody really wants to think about, to be honest–and you’ve done it in a way that brings it to life and makes it real.

    I love how the journalist tries to find humor in such a macabre subject while still managing to impart his warning. It gives us an insight into how the people of the day, and Virginians in particular, had to adjust to the realities of war on their doorstep.

    I love your blog. Keep it up!
    HN

    • Andy Hall said, on September 25, 2011 at 9:49 am

      Thanks for taking time to comment. Yes, it’s a humorous editorial on a serious subject. In the 19th century generally, there was something of a widespread fear about people being interred prematurely, and arious devices were designed to guard against it. I have no idea how many of these sold, and haven’t heard of a case where they actually worked as intended. Many of the old customs surrounding death and burial, such as having someone sit up with the body overnight before the funeral, are based in part on the practical need to be certain that the person was, in fact, deceased.

  2. Robert Moore said, on September 25, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Appropriate for the coming season. As morbid as it is, the study of burial practices from that period fascinate me.

  3. Jim Schmidt said, on September 25, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Some of the best grim humor on this topic comes from wartime expressmen tasked with moving caskets and bodies from the hospitals and battlefields to the home front, for example:

    An expressman remembered an instance of a young Union officer killed in Tennessee whose wealthy father sent a very fine burial case in which his son’s remains were to be returned home. Woodward wrote, “The corpse was placed in the casket, and as the weather was warm and the train did not leave until the next morning, the case was placed on the platform at the depot . . . What was our surprise the next morning to find the corpse lying on the platform and the casket gone!” The casket was never found, and Adams Express had to pay for another.”

    Woodward, C. “Express Operations During the War.” The Express Gazette, Vol. XXII, No. 5, May 15, 1897, 137-138

  4. Brainz said, on September 26, 2011 at 8:22 am

    It’s a damn shame that Poe didn’t live long enough to write about the Civil War.


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