Lincoln Kennedy Coincidence

No, not the spurious set of “coincidences” (some of which are blatant lies) that was promulgated in the ’60s, but some interesting history on the Kennedy funeral.  Turns out JFK laid in state on the same catafalque that held Lincoln’s body, and the caisson that transported his coffin was also used in the Lincoln ceremonies.

That’s it for the Civil War history in this article, but it’s an interesting read regardless. This week has been a reminder that the 1960s were as tumultuous for America as the 1860s, and as a direct result of what happened during that decade.

JFK Funeral Arrangement – Business Insider.

Vicksburg National Cemetery

Rewatching the Ken Burns series, I was struck anew by the close-packed headstones at Andersonville.  I’m surprised to learn its 13000 graves does not make it the largest Civil War cemetery – the Mississippi campaign’s widespread bodies were collected after the war and consolidated in the plots at Vicksburg.

Vicksburg National Cemetery was established by an act of Congress in 1866. It has the distinction of having the largest number of Civil War interments of any national cemetery in the United States. Of the approximate 17,000 Union veterans, only 5,000 are known. There are no Confederate burials here. Confederate soldiers were interred at Cedar Hill Cemetery in the City of Vicksburg.

After the establishment of the Cemetery, extensive efforts were made to locate the remains of the Union Soldiers throughout the Southeast and move them to Vicksburg for reinterment. At the time this occurred many of the markers had faded or were lost to the elements making identification impossible.

via Vicksburg National Cemetery – Warren County, Mississippi.

Preserving the Dead

As explored in Drew Gilpin Faust’s book, This Republic of Suffering, the Civil War brought about a change in American funerary customs.  This article puts a morbid little bow on the rise of embalming during the war.

Just as one Springfield citizen introduced the nation to embalming at the start of the Civil War, another Springfield citizen, Abraham Lincoln, became its highest-profile example at the war’s close. In between, approximately 40,000 soldiers underwent this process, which had been all but unknown just five years earlier. Holmes went on to be known as the “father of modern embalming,” and Elmer Ellsworth can rightly be remembered not only as the first Union casualty of the Civil War, but also the man who introduced the nation to embalming.  

via Springfield’s role in preserving the dead.

Southern Suicides

The New York Times’ Disunion (which I’ll be referencing a lot less thanks to the stingier paywall limits) examines suicides in the Confederate army, which it seems was more prevalent than in the Union army. Some excellent points are put forth.  (One not suggested was “the cause”; if Emancipation could breathe new life into the Northern ranks, is it not fair to suggest an equal and opposite reaction on the other side?)

Each suicide is a thing unto itself, but we can offer a few conjectures. Importantly, men, especially white men in the South, well understood the expectations Victorian society demanded of them in wartime. Honor and duty required their martial participation. So in the wake of the firing on Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s call for troops, Southern white men heeded their new nation’s call to arms and flocked to recruiting stations.

The “Boys of ’61” were pulled into military service by rage militaire a sense of adventure, but they were also pushed into service by patriotic womenfolk who, despite reservations, implored their husbands and sons to enlist. To resist would raise questions about one’s manhood as well as commitment to nation. Consequently, thousands reflexively rushed off to war without much deliberation or contemplation.

As Southern recruits mustered in camps, the reality of what they faced set in. While many a green soldier longed to “see the elephant” – a colloquial term referring to engaging in battle – eagerness often gave way to anxiety and a plethora of fears: of dying, of killing, of failure, of the unknown. If any of those fears were made manifest, a soldier’s courage would be called into question…

via A Burden Too Heavy to Bear –

Death & Grieving in the Civil War

I’m in the early chapters of  Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering, which talks about how the Civil War impacted American attitudes towards death and grieving. This site has an excellent summary of its own on the topic.

For family members and friends in the North, the prospect of loved ones dying far away from home, and being interred in what most considered to be profane Southern soil, led to a great deal of anguish and outrage. Indeed, many Northerners were deeply disturbed by this prospect because it upset normal social scripts ingrained in American culture when a family experienced a death. In normal times, death occurred in the home, people had a chance to view the body before it disappeared forever, and burial took place in a familiar space, which usually included previously deceased family members and neighbors. These were not normal times for sure, so some families, particularly the more affluent families in the North, would do whatever they could to bring the body of a loved family member’s home, either by making the trip south on their own, or paying someone to locate, retrieve, and ship the body north.

As a result of these desires—to maintain familial control over the final resting place and, if possible, to have one last look before the bodyvanished—a new form of treating the dead appeared on the social scene, and paved the way for the birth of an entirely modern funeral industry. Undertakers who contracted with Northern families began to experiment with innovative means to preserve bodies that had to be shipped long distances on train cars, often during the hot summer months. The revolutionary practice that emerged in this context, embalming, provided both the military and Northern communities with a scientific, sanitary, and sensible way to move bodies across the land.
Read more: Civil War, U.S. – rituals, world, burial, body, funeral, life, history, cause, rate, time, human, The Presence of Death, Disposing of the Dead