The Civil War resulted in unprecedented casualties on both sides. More American soldiers died in the four years of the conflict than in any other war in our history. In 1870, the U. S. Army's Surgeon General reported a total of over 300, 000 deaths of Union soldiers. About 95, 000 of these deaths resulted from actual battle, the remainder, over 185, 000, died of disease. Additionally, the records did not list a cause of death for over 24, 000 men. Confederate losses were comparable, both in cause and number. Altogether, nearly a million men were killed as a result of their service in the war. In the previous American conflict, the Mexican war, there were only 1, 733 fatalities. Most of the soldiers that were recovered had been buried as unknowns in a soon forgotten cemetery in Mexico City. On September 11, 1861, the War Department issued General Order #75 to ensure that casualties of the current war were provided a decent burial. This order made the commanding officer of the military departments and corps responsible for the burial of dead soldiers. At the time the order was written, no one could foresee the sheer number of dead soldiers that would be generated, both on the battlefields and in the hospitals.
Soldiers who died in the rear were generally buried in civilian cemeteries. These cemeteries were soon filled up and new cemeteries were started near the hospitals. Soldiers who were killed in battle were generally buried close to where they died. Sometimes the graves were well marked by wooden headboards, but more often, were not. It was standard practice to bury the bodies of unknown soldiers in trenches, marked with a single headboard with the number of bodies in the trench. At Spotsylvania and the Wilderness, only a few bodies were buried before the armies moved toward Richmond. It was over a year before any arrangements were made to bury the Union dead. By that time, only 700 of the over 4, 100 Union dead could be identified.
On July 17, 1862, President Lincoln signed an act that provided for the purchase of cemetery grounds to be used as a national cemetery. Twelve cemeteries were established in 1862 in accordance with the provisions of the legislation:
- Alexandria National Cemetery (Virginia)
- Annapolis National Cemetery (Maryland)
- Camp Butler National Cemetery (Illinois)
- Cypress Hills National Cemetery (Long Island, New York)
- Danville National Cemetery (Kentucky)
- Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery (Kansas)
- Fort Scott National Cemetery (Kansas)
- Keokuk National Cemetery (Iowa)
- Loudon Park National Cemetery (Maryland)
- Military Asylum National Cemetery (Washington, D. C. )
- Mill Springs National Cemetery (Kentucky)
- New Albany National Cemetery (Indiana)
Only Mill Spring was at the site of a battle. Forts Scott and Leavenworth were supply depots and far from the war. Existing post cemeteries were expanded but the nation was well on the way to repeating the same errors and omissions that resulted in the forgotten unknowns of the Mexican War. Cypress Hill was first used to bury Confederate POW's and their guards who were killed in a train wreck. The other cemeteries were located near large supply depots or near cities with large hospitals. A soldier who died in one of the large hospitals would be buried in one of the cemeteries. Both Union and Confederate soldiers were buried in the same cemeteries and the same provisions were made for all the interments.
Most of the soldiers who died near Washington were buried in either the Military Asylum or Alexandria National Cemetery. The first burials in the Military Asylum National Cemetery Were made in August 1861. By the time the cemetery was closed to further burials in May, 1864, 5, 211 Union soldiers had been interred. Arlington National Cemetery, located on Robert E. Lee's estate was opened on May 13, 1864. By June 1865, there had been 5, 003 burials.
By 1871, 11, 276 Union soldiers had been buried at Arlington of which 7, 199 were known; 4, 276 "others" were also buried in the cemetery. These "others" were comprised of cemetery employees and citizens held by the military. Over three hundred Confederate POWs were also buried in Arlington. Before becoming a National Cemetery, a section of Arlington had served as a camp for freed slaves. By 1871, 3, 235 of these ex-slaves had been buried on the grounds.
The Quartermaster General's Office was assigned the responsibility for overseeing the burial of deceased Union soldiers. During the war, the department had been concerned with supplying food, clothing, and equipment to the troops. Burying the dead was not a priority.
Upon the cessation of hostilities, Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs assigned much of the early work to Captain James M. Moore. Captain Moore was in charge of burials in the District of Columbia in 1864 and 1865. Captain Moore also commanded burial parties sent to the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House and also to the prison camp at Andersonville.
In order for "surviving comrades and friends "to locate the graves of deceased comrades and family members, The Quartermaster General's Office published a series of 27 volumes of burial rosters of various cemeteries. The original series was printed in paperback and became known as the Roll of Honor. By 1868 the Quartermaster. Department had received reports of burials in 72 national cemeteries and over 300 post and local cemeteries. There were burial reports on 316, 233 Union soldiers. Of this total 175, 764 had been identified. The Roll of Honor series contains most of these burial lists.
The first two volumes of the series were published in 1865, Volume I listed the names of most of the Union soldiers buried in the cemeteries of Washington D. C. and in Arlington National Cemetery. Volume II listed the names of soldiers buried by Captain Moore at the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House.
Captain Moore's record of his trip to Andersonville was printed in volume III of the series. He failed to acknowledge two members of his party, Clara Barton and Dorence Atwater. Clara Barton had been requested by President Lincoln to assist in providing lists of Union prisoners. Atwater had been a prisoner at Andersonville and had served as "Clerk of the Dead. " He had retained a copy of the original burial roster and after the war, the War Department attempted to force him to sell his copy to them. Atwater refused and was court marshaled and sent to prison. Clara Barton, Horace Greeley, and others petitioned for his release and after two months at hard labor, he was released.
Because the names of the Union dead at Andersonville had not been published, Atwater made arrangements with Horace Greeley to publish his list. On February 14, 1866, the Tribune Publishing Company published Atwater's list. The War Department was publicly embarrassed and three days later, Acting Quartermaster General D. H. Rucker wrote Captain Moore asking him when he intended to publish volume III of the Roll of Honor. Captain Moore responded that the volume would be ready for publication in a few days. Apparently the embarrassment spurred the Quartermaster Department to quick action. There were eight more volumes of the Roll of Honor published in 1866.
Volume XIV of the series was the first of four volumes released in 1868. It listed the names of 10, 959 Union prisoners who died during the war. Volume III of the series had previously listed the 12, 912 prisoners buried at Andersonville. Volume IX listed another 2, 797 names of prisoners who had been buried at Florence, South Carolina. An additional 3, 504 burials at Salisbury, North Carolina, were listed in volume XIV although the anonymous writer claimed that over 5, 000 fell victim. In 1871, Col Oscar Mack, the Inspector of National Cemeteries, claimed that although no records had been found, some 11, 700 Union prisoners died at Salisbury. Mack evidently forgot that three years earlier, the War Department had published volume XIV of the Roll of Honor which listed the names of only 3, 504 soldiers buried at Salisbury.
Volume XIV- XXIV were completed under the direction of Brevet Brigadier Alexander Perry. The actual work on the volumes, however, was done by Brevet Colonel Charles W. Folsom, Assistant Quartermaster, U. S. Volunteers. Col. Folsom remained in the service after the war and was responsible for overseeing most of the work of burying Union soldiers. He served as Inspector of National Cemeteries in 1868. By the time he resigned from active service, most of the bodies of Union soldiers had been buried in 74 National Cemeteries.
In the March 25, 1869 issue of "Nation, " Folsom wrote about the problems of identifying the bodies of soldiers who had died years before: "Every pains was taken to preserve all memorials of identity, from the scrap of a letter hastily pinned on the breast or buried in a can or bottle with the remains, up to the rudely ornamented headboard which comrades provided where more time was allowed. "
In 1866, Brevet Major E. B. Whitman, Army Quartermaster wrote:
"Doubtless, in many instances, the mortuary records were neglected or left incomplete from the influence of circumstances beyond the control of the officer in charge; but oftener from inexperience and want of forethought, and sometimes, unquestionably, from culpable and inexcusable neglect.
"In several cases a large number of interments were made by contractors, and the records and grave marks were the work of illiterate or careless employees. Frequently the lists kept by hospital stewards and quartermaster's clerks, intended to be correct, have been rendered of comparatively little value from barbarous spelling and bad or careless penmanship. Many burials have been made by troops on detached service or on the march. The regimental returns alone will show any official record of these; and the only source of information within reach is to be found in the inscriptions or marks at the grave itself-- sometimes a half obliterated penciling upon a rough board, or a rude carving upon a neighboring tree. "
According to a report written by Col. Folsom in May 1868, Many errors existed in the various volumes of Roll of Honor. Folsom proposed that a consolidated report be made listing the Union dead alphabetically by state.1
The War Department failed to act on Col. Folsom's recommendations. In 1868, the Quartermaster General's Office published an alphabetical index to places of interment of deceased Union soldiers. This index was designed to assist in locating cemeteries by state but only the first thirteen volumes of the series were covered. In 1868 and 1869 the Quartermaster General's Office published the so-called Final Disposition. These final four volumes list the original places of burial from which bodies had been removed and the cemetery to which they had been finally interred. A total of 197, 000 names were recorded, but the Final Disposition mentioned only 55 of the 74 national cemeteries active in 1871, so it is far from complete.
In 1871 Col. Mack, the inspector of National Cemeteries reported a revised total of the burial of 305, 492 Union soldiers.
White soldiers--known 151, 237 White soldiers--unknown 117. 678 Colored soldiers--known 13, 176 Colored soldiers--unknown 20, 043 Unknown and unclassified2 3, 385
Col. Macks' report was incorrect in that he reports 12, 112 burials at Salisbury, NC. Additionally he did not report soldiers who died in Western states and territories because "their deaths were not considered incidental to the rebellion. " Mack's figures of 305, 000 Union burials are about 9, 000 too high but compare favorably with the Surgeon General's report of 1870 which lists 303, 504 deaths. Also, Mack's total is 11, 000 less than that of Col. Folsom's report of 1868. An unknown number who were wounded or became ill were sent home and subsequently died. Folsom estimates that around 40, 000 fell into this category. That could explain some of the discrepancies in the figures. Almost none of the soldiers who died at home are reported in the Roll of Honor.
An undetermined number of names are either duplications of those listed in earlier volumes or corrections to names previously listed. Volume 14 lists 685 burials at Lawton, GA. The names are repeated in in volume 17 and finally, volume 17 lists the names again after their transfer to Beaufort, SC. About 20% of the names in the Roll of Honor appear to be duplications.3
The Roll of Honor was supposed to list all Union deaths but it failed to do so in many instances. It did not list many burials which took place in civilian cemeteries and completely omitted the National Cemetery at Grafton, WV. Additionally, the over 200 burials at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, DC. Were not listed.
The primary reason that so many names were not listed can be attributed to the lack of order and discipline in the maintenance of the Quartermaster's cemetery records. The records were supposed to be in some form of alphabetical order, however, the records in the National Archives are nearly incomprehensible. In an 1885 report, Quartermaster General Samuel Holabird stated that there were no reports on the history of national cemeteries were accurate or reliable and that there was no data available upon which to base such a history.
The War Department was actually unaware of the cemeteries they owned. One example is the Spring Grove National Cemetery in Cincinnati, OH. Two lots are listed as having been donated to the federal government by the State of Ohio. The Spring Grove Cemetery believes that the federal government owns the land but cannot locate the title, consequently, the Department of Veteran's Affairs does not even list Spring Grove. There is no record of Spring Grove or the soldiers buried there in possession of the Department of Veteran's Affairs.
Rose Hill Cemetery near Chicago has a similar problem. Volume IX of the Roll of Honor lists 159 burials at Chicago, and volume XVIII adds another 317 for a total of 476 verified Burials.4Several reports state that the lots in Rose Hill are owned by the federal government but the VA has no record of the burials because the graves were not marked at the time the graves in the national cemeteries were marked.
Although there are errors in the Roll of Honor, it still remains the most complete record of the burials of Union soldiers who died in the Civil War. The graves in the national cemeteries were not permanently marked until 1873 when the government provided headstones. The Department of Veteran's Affairs uses the orders for headstones to determine if a soldier is buried in a national cemetery. If the original marker had been lost or destroyed, or if no headstone was ordered, the VA has no record of the burial. Consequently, the Roll of Honor is the only record of the burial of Union soldiers.
It is therefore not surprising that many names are not found in the VA's national cemetery lists even though the soldier was known to have been buried in a particular cemetery. For this reason, there are many marker numbers missing from the cemetery lists. All the names listed in the various national cemeteries have been verified either by the Roll of Honor, the VA' national cemetery lists, 5 or by other period documents. The search for Vermont soldiers involved a line-by-line search of over 500, 000 burials. In only a few instances do the cemetery rosters group the names by State , so, it was necessary to conduct a search by state designator in the burial information of the individual soldier. Another difficulty was the fact that so many of the names of the soldiers in the Civil War were the same, both for the north and the south. Anglo-Saxon names predominated and there are hundreds of John Browns, John Smiths, and other names from the British Isles. A name search with no state identifier is futile and sure to result in numerous errors. So, for this reason, only those names that were listed with a Vermont unit are included in the list. Unfortunately, it is probable that many Vermont soldiers were missed because of the inability to correlate a name with an actual soldier because of the lack of a State or unit reference. It is a virtual certainty that if a soldier was known to have been killed in a particular battle and on a particular day, and his remains have not been identified, he is almost certainly one of the thousands of "unknowns" in a national cemetery near the site where he was killed.
1. For the full text of Col. Folsom's recommendations, see Vol. XVI of this report.
2. Most of the soldiers in this classification were at Port Hudson, LA.
3. The names listed in the burial records of "The Barry Report" were verified by cross reference to the lists of names in the various Roll's of Honor, VA National Cemetery lists, the 1892 Revised Roster of Vermont Volunteers and finally by a computer name sort once the names had been input to a consolidated list. The original place of burial is listed and the final place of interment is also listed when available.
4. The Vermont soldiers buried in Rose Hill are those of the 9th Regiment who died during their parole while acting as prison guards at Camp Butler, Illinois, from October 1862 to January and April 1863
5. See National Cemeteries and War Veterans Burials.
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A Special Research Project created especially for Vermont in the Civil War
by Richard Barry, a Green Mountain Boy!