Sunday, March 16, 2008

Finding Your Civil War Dead

Okay, to start off, we need to acknowledge the quote form Mark Twain: "There are three types of lies in this world: lies, damned lies and statistics." I don't know if that is truly from Mark Twain, but it sums up the next few paragraphs.

You see, there are some interesting statistics about Civil War dead. If you read Drew Gilpin Faust's new book This Republic of Suffering she presents some interesting details that are worth considering as family historians. At the beginning of the Civil War neither the Union or Confederacy were prepared to deal with the massive number of deaths that occurred over the four years from 1861 to 1865. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 620,000 Americans died in the war. Neither side was prepared to provide burial servies nor identify soldiers killed in action. Never was there a rigorous program for notifying next of kin in the event of a death. And this is not simply concerning battlefield killed. If men died in a hospital from disease, it was equally unlikely that any official notification was send out.

Perhaps most chilling of all, Faust writes: "more than 40 percent of deceased Yankees and a far greater proportion of Confederates--perished without names, identified only, as Walt Whitman put it, 'by the significant word UNKNOWN.'" Several thousands of men died and are listed as unknowns, their identifications have long since been lost.

I present this information because so often, genealogists and family historians have asked assistance in finding the location of war dead. In the cases that I have dealt with, the soldiers have reportedly died in the Battle of Atlanta. Unfortunately, the battle of Atlanta extended over several months and encompasses hundreds of square miles of territory. To identify an unknown grave in that area is next to impossible.

I do not intend to be completely discouraging, there are resources for finding Union and Confederate graves in the area. Just north of Atlanta, in Marietta is the national cemetery created after the Battle of Atlanta, for Union dead. There is a similar cemetery in Chattanooga, TN. There are a huge number of identified graves in the Marietta and Chattanooga cemeteries. In addition, the United Daughters of the Confederacy have been diligent in locating and identifying Confederate graves. There is a multi-volume publication, listing cemeteries and known Confederate graves.

So, opportunities exist. However, come into the search with clear vision. Finding civil War dead is a significant challenge. The search can be very rewarding, but it can also be very discouraging. Don't give up hope of a search for the dead Civil War ancestors or relatives. Good luck on the search.

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