Tell the ‘Stories of the Lost’ in the Civil War

Grave diggers collect the remains of the dead on the Cold Harbor battlefield. (Library of Congress LC-DIG-cwpb-04324 DLC.)

Grave diggers collect the remains of the dead on the Cold Harbor battlefield. These dead and others had no way to be identified. (Library of Congress LC-DIG-cwpb-04324 DLC.)

A review of a new book that tells the story of soldiers who fell on foreign shores during the two world wars made me realize that there are many similar stories to be told about the fallen of the Civil War.

Shannon Combs-Bennett reviewed Jennifer Holik’s Stories of the Lost on the In-Depth Genealogist website.

The book is a collection of stories about Holik’s relatives who left to fight for their country and never returned. The bodies of three of the men were brought home after the war ended. One remains on foreign soil. The book also recognizes the men who cared for the fallen.

Unlike later wars, the Union and Confederate armies didn’t have graves registration services to keep track of the fallen.

Both sides were unprepared to bury and account for hundreds of thousands of bodies, many of which were unidentified. Grieving families had no way to get information on how their loved ones died, or even to find where they were buried.

Because brothers and their male relatives often enlisted together, a soldier sometimes buried his fallen family member and marked the grave with the intent of returning later and bringing the body home. Later the soldier discovered that he either could not find the grave again or could not remember the burial place.

Family members lived the rest of their lives without ever knowing the last resting place of their loved ones. Some continued to search for information until they themselves died. Today, family historians still search for information and the graves.

Unlike almost every other home in Mississippi after the Civil War, the Poore family did not have to mourn the loss of a member who had been killed in the war.

The war had cost the lives of 27,000 other Mississippi men, more than 1 of every 3 of the 78,000 who shouldered arms for the state. How their families dealt with their grief and loss is as much a story of the Civil War as is combat on the battlefield.

Do you have a Civil War soldier ancestor who never made it home? Is his final resting place on a battlefield far distant from his home? How did his family cope with the loss?

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