Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Down Among the Dead Men

So on Memorial Day I ended up in the old Civil War cemetery at Poplar Grove.
It's peaceful and pretty and very manicured, very much in the tradition of the more modern military cemeteries, a sort of pocket-Arlington.

Until you look at the rows of stones, and realize that way more than half of them aren't "headstones" at all but simply stone blocks with a number carved on them.
These were the remnants of soldiers that lacked any sort of identity; nothing marked their original grave - or, it it had, was gone by the time the graves registration parties reached it - and nothing was left, if there had been anything, of a tag or scrap of paper with a name on it.

There was just some bone, and scraps of cloth, and probably some less savory remnants, to be gathered up and put back in a hole with a stone with a number on it for the following hundred-plus years. An empty chair at a table, an empty peg on a wall where no coat was hung, an empty house to which the scraps of bone and cloth never returned.
Perhaps even more grim were the separate files where the men of the U.S. Colored Troops were buried, still put apart from the white soldiers, still separate and unequal in death as in life.
All in all a very unsettling sort of day, one that raised more spectres than laid them.


  1. The Union Colored Troops buried at Poplar Grove got a better deal than the dead of the 54th Massachusetts at Fort Wagner. Black and white troops were buried together in a shallow mass grave by the Confederates. And then the dead were butchered again when many short rounds from later Union artillery barrages on the fort landed amongst the remains. The Confederate Commander of the Fort said in his memoirs that "the air was so sickening with the smell of death, that one could no longer stand to be in the fort."

    1. Although my guess is that many of them got theirs reinforcing failure at the Battle of the Crater, so an equally pointless way to buy the farm.

  2. Only battlefield I've been to was Gettysburg, and the only reason I remember it was because of the class mates I was with found a slug near a tree...big one, too. We all looked at it, and the Park ranger asked us where it was found, we showed him, and he wrote in a little book, and took the slug.

    Never sunk in that we were goofing off on a field of death a 100 years earlier.