Unknown but not forgotten War: With proper respect and solemnity, a nameless soldier is buried with honor 134 years after he fell in Gettysburg.

July 02, 1997|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,SUN STAFF

GETTYSBURG, PA. — An article in yesterday's Today section about ceremonies at Gettysburg National Military Park misidentified a pair of widows of Civil War veterans. Daisy Anderson, 96, of Denver is the widow of Pvt. Robert Anderson, a Union soldier, whom she married when he was 79. Alberta Martin, 90, of Alabama is the widow of Pvt. William Jasper Martin, a Confederate soldier, whom she married when he was 81.

The Sun regrets the error.

GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- They don't know who he was. They don't know where he came from. They think he was right-handed, in his early 20s, and that he was shot in the back of the head.

He is an unknown soldier of the Civil War. He fell in its determining battle, the one that raged here for three days exactly 134 years ago, and yielded, in that brief span, 51,000 casualties.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

He was one of them, and he was reburied yesterday with prescribed military reverence under a soaring oak tree in Gettysburg National Military Park.

Hundreds of people came. Tourists, townfolk and Civil War re-enactors in both Union and Confederate army uniforms looked on, or assisted in draping the unnamed in a panoply of honor.

A slight drizzle fell throughout the ceremony at the graveside, and baptized the solemn procession up Carlisle Street through the heart of Old Gettysburg.

One of the drummer boys fainted, and as historian James McPherson read snatches from letters written by actual Civil War soldiers, three men removed the boy's shoes and brushed his face with their wet palms, then helped him off the field.

The 20th Maine Fife and Drum and the Wildcat Regimental Band played funeral marches by Handel, Beethoven, Grafulla, and then My Country 'Tis of Thee. A rifle squad from the 3rd Infantry Division at Ft. Meyer, Va., the so-called "Old Guard," let off three rounds near the grave.

Two of three known surviving widows of Civil War veterans were on hand. They were brought to the grave in a black surrey, pulled by a bay quarter horse. Mrs. Daisy Anderson, of the late Confederacy, and Mrs. Alberta Martin, whose husband had been a runaway slave who joined the Union Army, each placed a rose on the casket.

The remains of the man inside had been discovered in March 1996 by a tourist at a patch of territory called the Railroad Cut, about a quarter of a mile outside of town. It was the first more or less complete set of remains found in almost 60 years at Gettysburg. In 1939, a skeleton of a Union soldier was found, also near the Railroad Cut; those of a Confederate were unearthed a few years earlier. Fighting had been especially heavy there during the three days of hostilities.

Douglas Owsley, the Smithsonian Institution's forensic anthropologist, had studied the bones at his laboratory in Washington. He said the young man was probably between 5-foot-8 and 5-foot-9 inches tall. He could not tell for sure, owing to the absence of certain bones. Nor could he tell if he had been stocky or slim.

He could, however, speak to the rarity of such finds.

"You could count on your fingers" the number of them found over the past decade in those parts of the country where the war was fought, he said, "usually turned up by construction workers."

Nearly 170,000 troops took part in the Battle of Gettysburg. Between 10,000 and 11,000 died on the field or later, said Gregory Coco, a historian who works at the National Cemetery here.

The National Cemetery holds about 3,500 dead, mostly Union soldiers. About 3,400 Confederate soldiers were removed by Southern benevolent societies, taken home and reburied in cemeteries in the South.

"The rest, we don't know exactly where they died," Coco said. "Most of the bodies are accounted for. A couple of hundred just rotted in the fields, or are still out there."

There was a time, in the years immediately following the battle, when remains were always turning up. Farmers dug them up, whole or in part, and as often as not, they were just moved aside, or reburied without any notice.

Since the 1939 discovery of the Union soldier near the Railroad Cut, partial remains of nine other soldiers have been collected from various parts of the battlefield.

These also were examined by the Smithsonian, then returned to Gettysburg. In 1991, still unidentified, they were buried collectively in a vault.

Recently these men, presumed to be both Confederate and Union troops, were disinterred. They were placed in the same casket with the young man found last year, and buried along with him yesterday.

Before things got under way yesterday, members of the 24th Michigan Iron Brigade -- re-enactors, or as they call themselves, "living historians" -- came into Monahan's Funeral Home on Baltimore Street to pay their respects.

Approaching the casket, in a large white room flanked by rose-colored lamps, Wayne Geurink, of Wyoming, Mich., said, "We think one of the partial remains in there is a member of the 6th Wisconsin Iron Brigade. That unit is here."

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