View Full Version : Body Bags or Blankets?
01-29-2004, 03:03 AM
Not be to be morbid, but have a good question posed in preparing the civilian scenario for a soldiers' field hospital being interpreted for the Battle of Olustee at the Columbia County Historical Museum in a couple of weeks. As the field hospital no longer exists, the museum's scenario is regional historical interpretation.
Pat McAlhany wrote: "Making lists and reviewing the artifacts we need (some we will do without!) and it occurred to me that when one of our soldier/patients dies, we must have a manner of securing the body and place to put it. I have done search after search online and can find no reference (other than extensive embalming info!) to this issue. So - would it be proper to wrap the bodies and place them outdoors in a designated area? Surely, due too space limitations and the resulting odor of decomposition, the corpses would have been relocated -pending burial or transport.
"If I don't find specific description, we will just take blankets and neatly wrap the "corpses", tie something around them and reverently place them in plane view in the rear yard."
I believe blankets or any available linen although I cannot document it any of the secondary sources I have on hand. I am familiar with what was done in a garrison situation with a ready supply of coffins, but the scenario focuses on the events prior to and after the battle in which the wounded and ill were temporarily held before transport to a permanent facility or hospital. I am in the process of flipping through Civil War Medicine: Care & Comfort of the Wounded by Robert E. Denney, but if anyone can shed light it would be appreciated.
01-29-2004, 09:49 PM
From the "History of the 49th NY Volunteers" Frederick David Bidwell, 1916 page 8, near Lee's Mill on the Warwick River - Early April, 1862:
"(Milton) Lewis was the first man of the 49th Regiment to be killed in battle. He was buried by his comrades that night by moonlight among the small pines near wher he fell, wrapped in an army blanket, in a coffin made from hardtack boxes."
Also on pg 52, after the Bloody Angle May 12, 1864:
"On the 13th the 49th Regiment buried its dead. They were laid side by side in blankets. Enclosed in the blanket was the full name and rank of each one and at the head of each grave was placed a cracker box board with their names in large letters, so their friends could easily identify them."
Hopefully that's helpful to you.
01-30-2004, 10:15 AM
RE: Documenation from the "History of the 49th NY Volunteers" Frederick David Bidwell
Thanks. YES this is very helpful as it helps with my belief that burial with blankets was part of giving a soldier a dignified burial when coffins were not available. It's been years since I studied this subject and the use of blankets had become common knowledge to my brain. My mind is not a spong but I don't recall ever reading in post-battle accounts or inventories about some type of "body bag" being used. I needed the documentation like this to help with the interpretation we're planning.
01-30-2004, 12:51 PM
I'll be honest with you and I read this post with great interest as you learn a great deal by reading. A wise man once said that is why God gave everybody two ears and one mouth, so he could listen twice as much as talk. The same could be said of eyes.
I have read a number of accounts of battlefield burials, especially those done by the forces that held the field, where the burial parties simply put the body in a single shallow grave or into a mass grave. The deceased soldier's comrades would provide the most respectful burial using a blanket or constructing a coffin from available materials. I am not sure in your case if a field hospital would have the blankets or time to use one in burying deceased soldiers from either side.
However, I would think that some decent minded persons worked there and they would give them the kindest burial they could under the prevailing circumstances. Many soldiers were unknown so no marker was made indicating who was buried there and concerning the mass graves in many cases two stakes outlined the ends of the mass grave with a notation of how many bodies were interred.
01-30-2004, 01:23 PM
I recommend reading "A Vast Sea of Misery" by Gregory A. Coco.
While this book deals specifically with medical and burial situations in the aftermath of the battle of Gettysburg, it would be VERY useful for your purposes.
01-30-2004, 11:06 PM
My mind is not a spong but I don't recall ever reading in post-battle accounts or inventories about some type of "body bag" being used.
Okay.... like I said, My mind is not a spong.
Excerpt from: USSC No. 38 Report on the Conditions of Camps and Hospitals at Cairo & Vicinity, Paducah and St. Louis
Rev. W. Patton and R.N. Isham M.D. of the
Chicago Branch of the U.S. Sanitary Commission.
BEDDING. – Sheet, pillow and pillow cases, mattress ticks, for cots, 30 inches wide; comforter and blankets.
CLOTHING. – Flannel, shirts (buttons all the way down in front), flannel drawers with string around the waist; slippers, plain dressing gowns or wrappers, burial clothes [emphasis added by YB], oiled silk, clean rags, chintz, bed coverings, handkerchief, woolen soaks and mitten, and fine tooth combs
FOOD. – Jellies, canned and dried fruits, and Sage for tea.
NO WINES AND LIQUORS. – The U.S. Government supplies a stated quantity of brandy and wine to each Surgeon, sufficient for ordinary Hospital consumption. When an uncommon number of special cases requiring alcoholic stimulants is on hand, the Surgeon can make a special requisition for the necessary supply. The Surgeon is required to account strictly to the Government for all the liquors which it furnishes. It is better, therefore, that none should be furnished from private sources, as it is liable to be improperly used, and, in some instances, has been.
SOURCE: US Sanitary Report, October 1861, Chicago: Dunlop, Sewell & Spalding, 40 Clark Street, 1861.
Okay, so here's a reference for burial clothes with no dimensions given. As this is early in the war, I ponder if the request for these items continued. So much of the initial requests where dropped as they became non-essential or useless and this is a possibility for this item by 1864.
01-31-2004, 07:07 AM
My g-g-g grandfather Reuben Hendrickson of Co. F, 27th Indiana was KIA at Resaca, GA on May 15, 1864. At the funeral of my great grandmother Ethel Hendrickson back in 1978. I was told what had happened to Reuben that day. At the funeral was my great grandmothers cousin James Campbell. James was the grandson of Reuben’s brother-in-law John Campbell who had enlisted with Reuben in Co. F. According to John Campbell he had the letter his grandfather wrote. The letter told what had happened that day in Resaca. Unfortunately John Campbell had passed away while I was in the Navy and his wife passed away soon after. I’ve contacted cousins in the area and none claim to have the letter.
As I recall , James told me that sometime during the battle Reuben and John found themselves separated from the company during the confusion of battle and had taken cover behind a tree that had came down during an earlier artillery barrage. As the sounds of whizzing Minnie balls ended, Reuben suggested to John that they leave the protection of the fallen tree and rejoin the regiment. John insisted that they stay put for a little longer just to play it safe. Reuben kept telling John that they needed to get back with the regiment. At that time Reuben raised up and artillery shell hit close by, killing him instantly. John collected Reuben’s personal effects and buried him in his blanket underneath a tree. John carved Reuben’s full name and unit on the tree and left that night with the regiment for Atlanta. Reuben now lies in a marked grave at the Chattanooga National Cemetery.
I know this was a burial on campaign but use what is available at the time and place.
02-10-2004, 03:17 PM
Here is a picture that may help you with what you're trying to do.
02-10-2004, 11:12 PM
I'm not as familiar with the Battle of Olustee as some so I read through the pages describing the battle and aftermath in "Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865." You're quoteing the Sanitary Commission regulations, so I assume you're going to be portraying a Union field hospital, not Confederate civilians who live in the area taking care of the Confederate wounded?
From the description in "Like Men of War" it sounds as though the Union Army was retreating as fast as possible, trying to take as many men as they could with them back to Jacksonville, abandoning stores in order to move men for example, they made the cavalry dismount and used their horses to move the wounded.
I'd advocate the barest minimum of supplies -- and laying the dead out in blankets or perhaps just in a row.
From "Civil War Medicine" by Robert Denny, it sounds as though the Union army moved into the area where the battle was fairly shortly before the battle, and hadn't been garrisoned there for very long. The mentions in this book of Sanitary Commision supplies focus on food -- apples and potatoes, again, very minimal supplies.
Unless you know for certain to the contrary, I'd advocate planning a scenario that is dependant on very few wounded and dead. I've found it very difficult in this hobby to recruit military who are willing to be wounded for any length of time at all.
I thought when I got into this hobby that the most realistic role for me to play as a civilian would be as a nurse -- and in nearly five years I've only gotten to nurse people on four occassions, and in three of them the whole episode was over in under 15 minutes. Perhaps my experience is atypical, but I'd hate to see you go through a lot of preparation and research to have only two men to nurse for fifteen minutes.
I hope that you'll have many more wounded to work with (now there's a strange sentance to read over!), especially because you're doing so much advance work.
Best of luck and let us know if there is anything else that would be helpful,
Atlantic Guard Soldiers' Aid Society
02-11-2004, 11:22 AM
I assume you're going to be portraying a Union field hospital, not Confederate civilians who live in the area taking care of the Confederate wounded?
The interpretation at the Museum involves civilians (black and white folks; pro-Union and pro-Confederate folks) taking care of Confederate wounded prior to the engagement at Ocean Pond/Olustee. There was a field hospital three miles from Lake City – called Camp Café (also known by other names) where men wounded in the numerous skirmished were being cared for by the Confederate Army. The wounded included both Confederate and Union USV & USCT. Although Lake City was described by Esther Hill Hawks as “a few scattering rough built houses with one or two more pretentious ones is all that is to be seen,” the interpretation is being twinked a bit because 1) the museum is a two-stored 1870s Italianate house with verandas and 2) the site of the original field hospital is no longer accessible.
Your information on the Union Army’s activities is correct. There was a lot of skirmishing, positioning, confiscating, burning of stored goods, disposal of weaponry, and picking up the wounded as a result of skirmishes. There are a lot of bits-and-pieces of documentation regarding the Olustee/Ocean Pond engagement. There is documentation that the Confederate Army handled wounded USCTs before the “big battle” as well as evidence of the USCT commanding officers concerns regarding the disposition of wounded black soldiers. While the battle waged at Ocean Pond, an order was given to priortize the removal of black soldiers because of the infamous “Confederate kill order.” In the mix of all this, civilians were involved.
The interpretative scenario at the Columbia County Historical Museum is based on Confederate and Union officers' field reports, primary and secondary oral and documented histories, and the diary of Esther Hill Hawks. The endeavor of the participants is to portray minute details regarding civilian activities therefore the question of body bags vs blankets was among the numerous issues contemplated by the participants. As morbid as it might seem, the issue of handling the deceased is part of the educational humanistic value to this historical interpretation. Plus – of course kids will ask in their unique gruesome way about dead bodies. Dusty’s link gave an excellent depiction of what we will try to do with the “deceased.”
Civilians are portraying assistants to the medical stewards, laundresses, cooks, and general laborers. The 5th USCI civilians (four women and two children) are portraying relatives and friends of the local black men were mustered into service for the Union; they are first contracted to work for the Union Army and later impressed to help with the Confederate forces as laundresses and general laborers.
Historically, several black locals were with the Union Army as contract workers at Camp Finnegan when orders were given to evacuate to Jacksonville on the 20th of February 1864. Dr. Esther Hill Hawks' diary, A Woman Doctor's Civil War, edited by Gerald Schwartz (University of South Carolina Press: 1984), ISBN 0-87249-435-7), recounts the civilian and military movement. On 20Feb1864, she wrote about their departure from Camp Finnegan:
"This morning there are rumors of an engagement of our forces under Gen. Seymore, at the front, near Lake City and that our soldiers were driven back." . . .
. . . "At dark we received the order to fall back to Jacksonville as rapidly as possible. The retreating army was only ten miles ahead -- so all our baggage and Regimental stores, had to be left, in Camp under charge of a small guard -- with slight prospect of our ever seeing any of them again! -- It was 7 p.m. when we got started. I rode at the head of the column with the Col. – The surgeon being obliged to ride in the rear to see that no [one] falls by the wayside. It was a warm moonlight night and considering that we are retreating before the enemy, we had a very jolly march. The men sang most of the way, “John Brown’s being changed to “Hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple tree” being the most popular air. We reached J. [Jacksonville] at about 11 o’clock.”
Despite the surgeon’s efforts it is POSSIBLE that civilians did fall by the wayside in rush and confusion – especially those on foot – and were caught up in the advancing Confederate Army. This is the basis for black civilians being involved in the Confederate field hospital being interpreted this coming weekend. The POSSIBLE can only be CERTAIN after more research on civilian activity in that region is conducted. The 5th USCI civilians are comfortable with the concept that a few black folks were separated from the retreating Union Army due to the skirmishing armies and forced back towards Lake City where the Confederates had a stronghold. Among the numerous assigned tasks given to black men and women was burial, laundry and general labor. This will be the focus of our interpretation with the members of the Columbia Historical Museum and Sewing Circle. It’s a first time effort for this group and several folks have participated in this development of interpreting civilians’ interaction with the military prior to and after the battle.
Olustee is this weekend and I will let you know what happens.
Peace and Joy,
02-11-2004, 10:57 PM
Thank you for all that information, it was WAY more than I had here.
The interpretation at the Museum involves civilians (black and white folks; pro-Union and pro-Confederate folks) taking care of Confederate wounded prior to the engagement at Ocean Pond/Olustee. There was a field hospital three miles from Lake City – called Camp Café (also known by other names) where men wounded in the numerous skirmished were being cared for by the Confederate Army.
Keeping the above in mind, I'd have to ask how long the field hospital was in operation at Camp Cafe? It would seem to me that in 1864 Florida, a wool blanket was far too valuable to bury someone in -- wool was terribly scarce by this point and every scrap was wanted for the Confederate Army.
So by that logic, they wouldn't be burying them in blankets.
It seems to me (and again, you know I know VERY little about this particular battle, so you must disregard these assumptions if they aren't borne out by the local and much more specific information you've got. Anyway, if the field hospital at Camp Cafe had been there for some time, they might well have gotten cotton goods to make some sort of shroud or wrapping for the bodies.
If Camp Cafe's hospital was only recently there, and had just been moved from another location or was simply a number of the surgeons and the local ladies coming together in necessity to care for the wounded, they would probably be burying men in just their clothing -- every sheet or piece of fabric would be far more valuable as bandageing.
I looked quickly through "A Southern Women's Story" by Phoebe Yates Pember, who was a matron at Chimborazo Hospital, and "Kate" which is the memoir of Kate Stone, who worked in Confederate hospitals in Mississippi and Georgia right to the end of the war but couldn't find anything that might prove useful for you.
I wish I could be more helpful. Best of luck with your hospital, I"m so excited to hear that you've got both black and white reenactors working together on it. Let us know how it works out, what you decided to do, what worked and what you'll do differently next time -- it's so valuable to hear about what you're doing in Florida.
Atlantic Guard Soldiers' Aid Society
02-27-2004, 12:38 PM
Edward Basset a soldier in the First Minnesota Volunteers recounts the aftermath of one of the Peninsula Campaign battles by stating "Burial-parties were clearing the field. A pit was dug some one hundred feet long by twelve feet wide about half-way between Courtney's house and the woods out of which the enemy came, and at a depth of four or five feet they came to water. Into this wet hole our dead were laid in two rows, and one above the other, until they were within a foot of the surface. The dirt was piled on them, and I doubt if any record can now be found of who was laid there."
There was another reference to a field burial in which Sgt Henry Taylor buries his brother Isaac after the 1st Minn Vol charge at Gettysburg, "I secured his pocketbook, watch, diary, knife, etc., and with Wm. E. Cundy and J.S. Brown buried him at 10 O'clock a.m., 350 paces west of a road which passes north and south by the house of Jacob Hummelbaugh and John Swisher(colored) and equi-distant from each, and by a stone wall where he fell, about a mile south of Gettysburg. I placed a board at his head on which I inscribed:
No useless coffin enclosed his breast
Nor in sheet nor in shroud we bound him,
But he lay like a warrior taking his rest,
With his shelter tent around him."
There was another passage where they buried another soldier of the regiment with them wrapping him in his blanket and shelter tent.
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