A Cold-Blooded Set

While our citizens were collecting the bodies of the Confederate dead the Federal Government was engaged in the same work and some three hundred Federal dead in our county were removed to the National Cemetery at Winchester. These men were buried in many places, often in the neglected spots where they had fallen in battle. In a field adjoining my home nine men, killed in a charge, May 30th, 1862, were buried in one grave. A few weeks later a soldier belonging to an Ohio Regiment died in the home of one of our citizens and was buried in this lot. Some days later his friends came and removed his body and left the grave open with the coffin in it. About the same time a negro died in one of the camps and was buried in this open grave. This negro had on an old uniform of a Federal captain. When these bodies were removed to Winchester the body of the negro was marked “Federal captain. Name unknown.” He rests now with the Federal dead in the National Cemetery. What is fame?

The men employed by the Government to remove the dead were a cold-blooded set. I watched them open a number of graves, and when they found anything on the dead that was worth keeping they appropriated it to their own use. They invariably examined the teeth to see if any had gold fillings, and if such fillings were found, the teeth were removed and placed in the men’s pockets. No gold was ever buried with the dead, if these ghouls could help it.

These inhuman practices were the outgrowth of the war. These men,– now employed by the Federal Government to collect the bodies of the men who had lost their lives in service,– were members of the same army that had pillaged and robbed our people during the last two years of the war. As they could no longer rob the living they were robbing the remains of their dead comrades. I saw one of these men take a skull of one of these dead soldiers, and on examining it he found some four or five of the teeth were filled with gold. He took a stone and deliberately knocked out these teeth and put them in his pocket, with the remark, “They are of no use to this dead man, and they are of some value to me.”

A Federal soldier had been buried in a field in front of my home. A depression in the ground marked his grave. I had often passed the place and thought it was a hog wallow. One of my boy associates had seen the man buried and called the attention of the grave-diggers to the spot. I was somewhat shocked at the way they asked for the information. We boys were watching the removal of some of the dead and one of the men, turning to us, asked if we knew where any more of these men were “planted.” It was then that the boy called attention to the grave. I followed the grave-diggers and saw them open the grave. The man had been buried in a shallow grave without a coffin. When the earth was removed one of the diggers discovered a black silk handkerchief and pulled it from under the earth. He then shook off the dirt and held it up for inspection. It was in good condition, so he put it in his pocket. He next examined the teeth for gold fillings, but found none. The bones were collected and thrown into a small box for transportation to Winchester.

— Thomas Almond Ashby, The Valley Campaigns: Being the Reminiscences of a Non-Combatant While Between the Lines in the Shenandoah Valley During the War of the States, New York: The Neale Publishing Co., 1914.

Curator: Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter.

Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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