top of page

Another Tragedy of the Civil War

One of many tragedies of the Civil War is that families often did not know what had happened to a son or husband who did not come home when the war was over. The captain of his company might know that he was wounded at Shiloh or Fredericksburg and he must have died, but where was he buried? After the war many fathers searched for month trying to find where their son was buried. This was true for both North and South and is one consequence of both sides being poorly prepared for war.

In the election of 1860, Southern states insisted on a candidate who would support the right to take their slave-property anywhere in the country as ruled by the Supreme Court decision on Dred Scott.

Abraham Lincoln spoke for limiting slavery to the states where it was established and this was not acceptable. Enthusiasm for secession swept the South. The votes for Lincoln’s election had hardly been counted when South Carolina seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860. Before Lincoln took office in March, six more Southern states had united to form a new government.

Many Southern leaders thought the North would not fight and if they did make a feeble attempt, their farmers and factory workers would be no match for the elite Southern horsemen.

When Lincoln finally became President in March, he said there need be no fighting if the Southern states left peacefully. Federal forts in Southern states were evacuated. The Confederate shelling which forced the surrender of Fort Sumpter led to a war for which neither side was prepared.

One of the details that escaped attention as states rushed to equip armies was a system of identification in case a soldier was killed or wounded. After a battle, the dead were buried in long trenches, their names unknown. Some fell in a wooded area where months later, only a skeleton remained. As soldiers saw this happen, later in the war before a major battle many wrote their name on a slip of paper which they pinned to their shirt. Was this a durable form of ID in rain, mud and blood? Often not.

35 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

The letters of James Griffin of South Carolina appear in A Gentleman and an Officer, by Judith McArthur and Orville Vernon Burton published by Oxford University Press in 1996. The book is valuable for

The key phrase that tore the country apart in 1860 is part of Amendment V in the Constitution: “…nor shall any person …be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law” The Supreme

The Civil war began in 1861—one hundred and sixty years ago. After so many years, does that history still matter? It was the most costly war, in terms of lives lost, in American history. From a popul

bottom of page