Monday, September 30, 2013

Antietam: Final resting places for New York soldiers

A cropped close-up of Alexander Gardner's image of graves of New York soldiers near
Burnside Bridge. Civil War photography expert William Frassanito first discovered
the names of the soldiers on their wooden headboards. (Library of Congress collection)

Headstones for Private John Thompson and Corporal Michael Keefe
 in Antietam National Cemetery.
In Alexander Gardner's iconic image of temporary graves of 51st New York soldiers at the foot of a stone wall near Burnside Bridge, the names of four of the men can be read upon magnification on crude, wooden headboards. Sergeant George Loud of Company C (buried at the feet of the posed soldier), Private Edward Miller of Company H (three graves to the right of Loud), Private John Thompson of Company B (three graves to the right of Miller) and Corporal Michael Keefe of Company I (second grave to right of Thompson) were killed during the attack at the bridge.

 In October 1866, more than four years after the Battle of Antietam, the task of disinterring the Union dead on the field began. Perhaps that's when the remains of these four New York soldiers, probably just bones by that time, were discovered. By Sept. 17, 1867, their remains had been transferred to their final resting places in Antietam National Cemetery, which was dedicated that day with President Andrew Johnson in attendance. Soldiers in the national cemetery were originally buried under wooden headboards, which eventually deteriorated and were replaced with stone markers in the 1870s.

During a recent visit to the national cemetery, the gravestones of all four men were easily found in the same row in the large New York section, about 35 yards from the entrance. Whether they are actually buried under those markers, however, is anyone's guess. In a comparison of a circa 1866-67 stereoview of national cemetery markers to a similar modern image, Antietam photo expert Stephen Recker ("Rare Images of Antietam," Page 35) demonstrated that bodies are not buried directly under the markers indicated. At least two graves in the Connecticut section of the national cemetery do not hold the bodies that are noted on their markers. The remains of Private Oliver Case of the 8th Connecticut, killed near Harpers Ferry Road at Antietam, were recovered by his father and reburied in their hometown of Simsbury, Conn. Private Bridgeman Hollister of the 16th Connecticut, mortally wounded at Antietam, is actually buried in his hometown of Glastonbury, Conn.

Who's really buried under their markers at Antietam National Cemetery? And how many other markers in the cemetery are inaccurate? We'll probably never know.

Headstones for Sergeant George Loud and Private Edward Miller in 
Antietam National Cemetery. Loud was posthumously promoted
 to sergeant, Miller to corporal.

No comments:

Post a Comment