Saturday, July 27, 2013

Soldiers' Lot in West Cemetery in Litchfield, Conn.

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Granite monument in the Soldiers' Lot at West Cemetery 
in Litchfield, Conn.
In the Soldiers' Lot near the entrance to West Cemetery in Litchfield, Conn., there is a group of closely spaced headstones inscribed with the names of men who died in the South during the Civil War. There are markers for Privates Willard H. Parmalee and John Iffland of Company A of the 2nd Connecticut Heavy Artillery, both of whom died at at Cold Harbor on June 1, 1864; Private Jacob Kearn of the 14th Connecticut, who was killed at North Anna River (Va.) on May 24, 1864; and musician John Gutterman of the 1st Connecticut, who died of disease as a prisoner of war at Andersonville, Ga., on July 26, 1864.

During a recent visit, I counted 23 such headstones, each marked with an American flag and inscribed with the name of a Civil War soldier, his unit and date of death. But there are no bodies buried beneath any of  them. As Connecticut Civil War expert Peter Vermilyea notes on his excellent "Hidden In Plain Sight" blog, these are "effigy" graves,  memorial stones for victims whose bodies were unable to be returned home because they were unidentifiable or perhaps for financial reasons. (There is an effigy grave section in West Avon Cemetery in Avon, Conn., which includes a marker for Henry Evans, who was killed at Antietam and is buried at the national cemetery in Sharpsburg, Md..)

In her excellent book, "This Republic of Suffering," on death and dying during the Civil War, Drew Gilpin Faust wrote that at least half of the 625,000 Civil War dead were never identified, a staggering statistic. (Last year, a demographic historian estimated that 750,000 died during the Civil War.) The effigy grave section in West Cemetery was added in 1894, decades after the war ended, for the Litchfield Civil War soldiers whose remains were not returned home or never found or identified. Perhaps the effigy grave brought some comfort to a familiy that was unable to mourn the death of a loved one at a "real" grave. Musician Gutterman's actual grave, No. 4,015, is in Andersonville National Cemetery, 1,100 miles from his hometown of Litchfield.

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