JF Ptak Science Books Post 1451
"It is well that war is so terrible. We should grow too fond of it."
- General Robert E Lee, at the Battle of Fredericksburg
I've been thinking a bit on the Civil War, the American Civil War, coming fast now on its 150th anniversary. I've been looking at these stereocard photographs in the Library of Congress collection, and have been finding some interesting, troubling images.
This shows a burying detail at Fredericksburg
This was a bad one for the Union. IT was Lee against Burnside, Lee commanding the heights at Fredericksburg and making Burnside's men pay dearly and forever for a bad plan--there were more than 13,000 Union casualties that day compared to about 5,000 for the Confederates, and was about the worst defeat suffered by the Union for the entire war, the outcome of two of the largest armies ever to meet for the entire conflict. It is a famous battle and there is much about it all over the web.
I'm just looking at the sticks in the background of this photograph, over the shoulders of the African American gravediggers, just to the left of the man with the crossed arms. Who was this? He has no uniform, and is a bit older--but there is a shovel at his feet. Maybe he is from the town, maybe he's just watching. But just to his left, is a little rise of what looks like fresh dirt. At the head are those narrow sticks, of all different sizes, and place at differing intervals.
But these sticks are in a straight line. Are they temporary grave markers? But they're so close together--perhaps this is a mass grave. Perhaps these markers at placed at where the heads of these soldiers are, laid shoulder to shoulder in a big pit, covered up.
The grave detail seems to me to be standing in a pit, a shallow one. I don't know what else this could be.
There are too many short, stubby sticks for this to be a simple fence of found wood. I think that they are temporary headstones. I realize these people were dealing with an horrific situation with very, very limited means, and that even getting stakes of wood for thousands of graves would've been a deep chore--but still, those stubby little bits of wood bother me.
Mr. Shelby Foote in volume two ("from Fredericksburg to Meridian") of his spectacular The Civil War, A Narrative described a bit of the battle below. My memory of reading this in Foote about this battle (my reading now more than 20 yeqars old) is mostly gone, but the overall impression of Foote's painting was Lee looking out over the battlefield as the fog--which had enshrouded it all all morning long--had lifted. That was the end of it for the Union army, the sun heating things up a bit, burning off the protective layer of fog, heating it up enough there in the middle of December to cause terrific havoc. How would the parting fog and what it revealed underneath be seen in the mind of R.E. Lee? He must have felt instantly that the day would be his.
"Defensively speaking, indeed, the record of Confederate arms could scarcely have been improved. Of the three objectives the Federals had set for themselves, announcing them plainly to all the world by moving simultaneously against them as 1862 drew to a close, Vicksburg had been disenthralled and Chattanooga remained as secure as Richmond. Davis himself had done as much as any man, and a good deal more than most, to bring about the result that not a single armed enemy soldier now stood within 50 airline miles of any one of these three vital cities. "
"Of all these various battles and engagements, fought in all these various places, Fredericksburg, the nearest to the national capital, was the largest — in number engaged, if not in bloodshed — as well as the grandest as a spectacle, in which respect it equaled, if indeed it did not outdo, any other major conflict of the war. Staged as it was, with a curtain of fog that lifted, under the influence of a genial sun, upon a sort of natural amphitheater referred to by one of the 200,000 participants, a native of the site, as "a champaign tract inclosed by hills," it quite fulfilled the volunteers' early-abandoned notion of combat as a picture-book affair."--Shelby Foote, The Civil War, a Narrative. Volume 2.
My thanks to Rich Lewis for finding another temporary burial site: