Remains of Civil War soldiers get honorable burial Bones found near Antietam battlefield

September 06, 1992|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

HAGERSTOWN -- Six score and 10 years after dying in the bloody Battle of Antietam, two Civil War soldiers were laid to rest yesterday amid the fanfare of marching brigades, a 21-gun salute and the playing of "Taps."

Men marched in Union and Confederate uniforms, some of the 300 in attendance wore 19th-century fashions, and wreaths were laid by the gravesite before the small coffin bearing the soldiers' remains was lowered into the ground during the ceremony at the Rose Hill Cemetery here.

No one knows whether the remains belong to Confederate soldiers who fought dissolve the Union or Federal troops who fought to preserve it.

"The percentages are in favor of their being Confederate soldiers," said Samuel E. Pruett, chairman of the Washington Cemetery's board of trustees. "We don't know their names, and we don't know their unit, let alone which side they were on. . . . We're treating them as American soldiers and giving them a respectful service."

Still, Mr. Pruett isn't 100 percent certain the remains are those of Civil War casualties, although it seems likely. They were discovered on a farm that was part of the Antietam battlefield during the Sept. 17, 1862, clash in Western Maryland between the federal army of Gen. George B. McClellan and the rebel troops of Gen. Robert E. Lee, the bloodiest battle ever fought in one day on American soil.

Mr. Pruett said a skull was found with a bullet wound. He said archaeologists have determined that the bones are partial remains of two people, both of whom were between 18 and 38 when they died.

The bones were discovered by A. Lee Ivester, of Mooresville, N.C., and his friend, Osborne L. Raines Jr., of Eden, N.C. The men found the remains in 1986 while pursuing their hobby -- hunting for relics. This time, they were searching for items used in the Civil War on a private farm near the battlefield, which is about 11 miles from Hagerstown.

"One day, we got a sound on our machines," said Mr. Raines, referring to their metal detectors that were triggered by bullets and pieces of nearby tin. He said the men stopped to dig a hole. "I pulled up a dark-brown piece. Lee came over, and said, 'That's a hip bone.' We looked a little more and found several other bones."

Among them was the skull, which he described as having been flattened. They contacted the property owner, then the National Park Service to help verify that the findings were human remains.

"I'd thought from the outset that they were soldiers' bones," Mr. Ivester said.

Mr. Raines said the finding was "poignant."

"I've been a longtime student of Civil War history," he said. "This is something you don't expect to find. It makes it all so real. Here was somebody's brother, or maybe two people."

Since their discovery, the remains have been stored in such diverse places as the Smithsonian Institute and Mr. Pruett's closet until the Maryland Veterans Commission approved their burial in the part of the cemetery reserved for Confederate soldiers. There are 2,469 Confederate soldiers buried at the cemetery, only 346 of them are identified, however, Mr. Pruett said.

The Rohrersville Band played during the ceremony as it has at burials at the cemetery since 1875.

Frederick H. Hoover, a cemetery board member, believed an honorable burial was fitting, although the remains may have been those of Confederate enemies of the Union.

"You've got the same thing today. Japan was our enemy in World War II," he said, adding that the Japanese and United States are now allies.

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