Image from National Park Service, Gettysburg National Cemetery.,
While in Gettysburg, we visited the National Cemetery. The three-day battle, which lasted from July 1-3, brought over 150,000 soldiers into the area. When it was all over, 10,000 soldiers had been killed or mortally wounded, 30,000 had been injured, and 10,000 had been captured or were missing (National Park Service). The town and the military were now left with a massive problem: dead men were everywhere, as were dead horses and other animals, wrecked wagons, and all manner of debris. The devastation extended from Gettysburg itself into the farm fields to its south. The stench of decay could be smelled as far away as Emmitsburg, almost 14 miles to Gettysburg’s south.
It is no surprise then people were afraid that contamination, followed by epidemic, would result from the presence of the vast number of unburied bodies, and so the process of burying the dead began soon after the battle’s end, although most were hurriedly put into shallow graves (National Park Service).
In addition, it took a few days to get help from resources like the Christian Commission and the Sanitary Commission, especially since most Union army personnel had moved on to chase the Confederate forces. To add to the difficulty, train tracks and telegraph lines connecting Gettysburg with the rest of the Union had been destroyed.
To get a sense of what it was like immediately after the battle, here is an excerpt from A Time to Heal. I’ve posted this before, but it bears repeating to understand the terrible impact the battle had on people’s lives, the town, and the environment.
Eventually a tract of land was purchased on the hill where Union forces had fought off a charge by General Pickett. Reburial of dead Union soldiers began in October of 1863 and the cemetery was dedicated in November of that year. President Abraham Lincoln was among the speakers, delivering a speech that became known as “The Gettysburg Address” (National Park Service).
(National Park Service, Gettysburg, “Dedication Day Events” 2018 Schedule
This is the only known photograph of Lincoln at the cemetery dedication. He's the one with the circle around his head.)
What happened to the Confederate dead? Most C.S.A. soldiers were not interred in the Gettysburg cemetery. Rather, in the 1870s Southern veterans’ societies began an effort to relocate C.S.A. remains to various cemeteries in the southern states like the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia. One well-known burial location for Confederate soldiers who had been killed in Gettysburg is Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia and it is worth visiting. However, some Southern soldiers still remain buried in the National Cemetery at Gettysburg (National Park Service).
What was it like to attend the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery? In A Time to Heal, Eli and Carson decide to attend. Maggie remains at home as she is pregnant and close to giving birth. Eli returns and early the next morning Maggie goes into labor. To help keep her mind off the pain, he relates his take on the dedication.
My next blog: we went on a ghost tour and I got a ghostly (?) photo.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder