Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cold Harbor National Cemetery interactive panorama

                              Click on image above for a full-screen interactive panorama.

The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier at Cold Harbor National Cemetery was built in 1877.
Perhaps no Civil War photo depicts the horror of war better than the iconic, and horrific, image below of remains of soldiers on the Cold Harbor battlefield. It was taken less than a year after the war by John Reekie, a photographer employed by Alexander Gardner, and it shows African-American workers and soldiers disinterring remains from the scarred landscape. The uncropped version of the image may be viewed here on the Library of Congress web site.

Of the nearly 2,000 Civil War soldiers buried in Cold Harbor National Cemetery, more than 1,200 are unidentified, so it's possible that the remains of the soldiers in Reekie's image ended up there in trenches near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  "Near this stone," the inscription on the sarcophagus at the back of the cemetery reads, "rest the remains of 889 Union soldiers gathered from the battle fields of Mechanicsville, Savage-Station, Gaines-Mills, and the vicinity of Cold-Harbor." 

After the war, a massive federal effort sought the remains of Union soldiers in the South for reburial in newly established national cemeteries. But even well into the 20th century, woods and fields near the Cold Harbor battlefield gave up their dead. A relic hunter told me he had unearthed more than 70 skeletons, most likely all Civil War soldiers, on private land in the area.   

In this enlargement of a photo taken by John Reekie, the remains of at least five soldiers have been placed on a stretcher-like device ....

... and in this macabre enlargement of the same image, a shoe is still attached to the remains of a leg...

... while in yet another enlargement of the same image, three skulls and other bones appear with the remains of a soldier's clothes. (Click here for the original of this image on the Library of Congress web site.)

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