In August 1862, two Union soldiers were gravely wounded at the Battle of Second Manassas. They were brought to a field hospital, though both died as a result of their injuries. Their bodies were laid to rest in a shallow burial pit, intermixed with amputated limbs from other soldiers wounded in the battle. Then they were lost to history.
But in 2014, the National Park Service (NPS) first encountered the remains during a utility project. With help from the Smithsonian Institution, the NPS was able to identify the remains as Union soldiers, and worked with the Army to give these soldiers an honorable final resting place.
Beneath the surface, they found two nearly-complete human skeletons, and several artifacts including buttons from a Union sack coat, a .577 Enfield bullet, three pieces of .31 caliber lead buckshot, and an assemblage of eleven arms and legs. The discovery was something incredibly rare: a battlefield surgeon’s burial pit. In fact, this was the first time such a burial pit had ever been excavated and studied at a Civil War battlefield.
Today I’m talking with archeologist and Manassas National Battlefield Park Superintendent Brandon Bies about the discovery, what it can tell us about Civil War combat medicine (when doctors did their best despite having little else but a saw an chloroform) and the new light this sheds on the horrific nature of warfare in the 19th century.
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