Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Military Funeral of an “Ancient Gentleman Cow”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 22, 2011

My new blog post is up at The Civil War Monitor, on the dramatic and humorous protest made by some Confederate soldiers here, when issued rations that they deemed unfit for human consumption:

For one company of the 8th Texas Infantry, garrisoned at Galveston, frustration boiled over on the last Sunday of February 1864, when the soldiers were issued as rations the carcass of a scrawny, sickly steer they deemed entirely inedible. Instead of cutting up the beef and distributing it to individual messes, the soldiers instead turned out at 9:30 a.m. with their rifles and organized a formal funeral cortege. They were joined by soldiers from other commands, as well. As Edward T. Cotham, Jr., describes in his book, Battle on the Bay: The Civil War Struggle for Galveston, the soldiers put the rejected beef on a stick and paraded it through the town in grand funereal style, under reversed arms and to the accompaniment of muffled drums. When they reached the public square in front of the courthouse, they held a mock funeral and buried it, reading a formal eulogy over the remains. The ceremony was, according to a contemporary account, “done by the parties quietly, soberly, and mournfully,” though the spectacle “created no little merriment.” The following morning, a headboard had appeared over the “grave,” inscribed with the following tribute in verse:

“Died in the butcher-pen, at Galveston, on Saturday night, 27th inst., an ancient gentleman cow in the 129th year of his age. Disease: poverty. His remains were issued to the troops, and by them buried in the public square with the honors of war. . . .”

The new issue of the Monitor includes great material by authors including Glenn LaFantasie, Ron Coddington, James Marten and more. Did I mention that a subscription to the Monitor would make a great last-minute Christmas gift for a CW buff?
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Image: Shooting beeves for the Union Army of the Potomac, Harper’s Weekly, January 31, 1863. Via SonoftheSouth.com.

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One Response

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  1. Will Hickox said, on December 20, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    Such mock funerals appear to have happened quite frequently when troops received bad rations, especially meat. This reminds me of Robert Darnton’s classic book “The Great Cat Massacre,” which describes rituals in 18th-century France. At the time, everyone got the humor and understood the symbolism of these various events. The meaning, however, is usually lost to the modern reader, and as Darnton writes, this is useful for taking us out of our “comfort zone” and confronting past cultures on their own terms.


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