Confederate Dead And Wounded At Gettysburg

Maggie MacLean asked:

General Robert E. Lee left his most seriously injured Rebels to the mercy of Union doctors, nurses, and civilians after the Battle of Gettysburg. Of course, the Union surgeons did their duty and cared for the boys in blue first. The Confederate wounded had to wait their turn, and there was an extremely high mortality rate among them.

Volunteer nurse Cornelia Hancock wrote:

It took nearly five days for some three hundred surgeons to perform the amputations that occurred here, during which time the rebels lay in a dying condition without their wounds being dressed or scarce any food. If the rebels did not get severely punished for this battle, then I am no judge.

This article, titled Inhumanity and Poltroonery of the Rebel Surgeons, appeared in the Adams Sentinel, in July 1863:

The infamy and cowardice of the Rebel surgeons in deserting the men of their army wounded at the battle of Gettysburg is without parallel in the war. In every battle in which fortune has been adverse to our arms and our wounded have been temporarily left within the Rebel Lines, the brave and self denying surgeons of the regiments have either remained with the fallen or have immediately applied for peace within the Rebel lines, that they might be cared for.

But the Rebels left lying on the field many thousand of their wounded-Dr. Veliom reports the number at ten thousand and one with them neither surgeons, stores, nor nurses but literally abandoned them to their fate. These men complained bitterly of the cruelty of their surgeons in thus forsaking them, but bore up patiently under their sufferings for many days until they could be attended to by some of our own surgeons most of whom had at once to hasten forward with their own regiments to other fields.

We published yesterday a thrilling letter from the battle field written on Thursday last, six days after the close of the contest, which stated that there were hundreds of the Rebel wounded not then reached that hundreds of them it had been found impossible even to cover and they lay in the woods with broken limbs and torn bodies drenched in the rain, some having been drowned in the floods which rose around them.

Of course everything possibly was being was being done for them, and doctors, wound dressers and nurses were arriving. We were not prepared for, and could not have foreseen the flight of all the Rebel surgeons. It will long be remembered to their disgrace both by the unfortunate Rebels and by the whole country.

The Confederate dead were abandoned altogether. They were buried along roads, in ditches, shoved into trenches, or consigned to common graves. The Southerners were seen as traitorous invaders, and their bodies were not respected as were the men in blue.

From the New York Times, July 15, 1863:

The last of the rebel dead on the battlefield were buried only yesterday. They were principally found near the foot of Round Top Ridge, where some of the most terrific fighting of the battle took place, between a portion of Longstreet’s forces and the Excelsior brigade. The bodies numbered, in all, about fifty. Quite a number, nearer the centre, had been buried the day previous.

After the Civil War ended, the Southern states launched efforts to return the bodies of the Confederate dead buried in the Northern states to their native states for burial. In Virginia, the citizens began to raise money to bring the Rebel soldiers from Gettysburg to Richmond for reburial in Hollywood Cemetery.

On June 15, 1872, a steamship docked at the wharf at Rocketts on the James River with boxes containing the Confederate dead. The soldiers who had left Virginia to fight for the cause they thought was just, had come home. No one will ever know for sure, but in one of the precious boxes were probably the unidentified remains of Brigadier General Richard B. Garnett, who was killed while leading his men in what history has labeled Pickett’s Charge.

On June 20, 1872, fifteen wagons were assembled at Rocketts to carry the boxes containing the remains of the Confederate dead. Each wagon was draped in mourning and was escorted by two former Confederate soldiers with their muskets reversed.

The funeral procession, which included political and military leaders slowly made its way up Main Street. The buildings along the route were draped in black. When the procession reached Hollywood Cemetery, the boxes were unloaded and buried in a section known as Gettysburg Hill.

There was nothing comparable to the Gettysburg Address for these soldiers-only a prayer by Reverend Moses Hoge of Richmond’s Second Presbyterian Church, which contained these lines:

We thank Thee that we have been permitted to bring back from their graves among strangers all that is mortal of our sons and brothers. Engrave upon the hearts of…all the young men of our Commonwealth the remembrance of the patriotic valor, the loyalty to truth, to duty, and to God, which characterized the heroes around whose remains we weep, and who surrendered only to the last enemy…death.

Following the prayer, three musket volleys were fired in a final tribute.

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One Response to “Confederate Dead And Wounded At Gettysburg”

  1. rob says:

    Very good article,however, I do not believe it was cowardice of the confederates to leave there wounded in the hands of the Union. The doctors were needed to follow the troops in the remaining fight and how did they know if they were going to be captured or killed after they tended to there wounded. Do you think the Union would just let them go after treatment ? At best they would be POW`s, one less doctor to care for the enemies wounded,think about it. War is Hell.

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