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. (Library of Congress LC-DIG-cwpb-04324 DLC.)

The horrors of Civil War battles could harden men and make them insensitive to scenes that might otherwise sicken them in normal times. Rebel troops that included a 15-year-old William B. Poore had occasion to witness one such incident.

In early June 1863, the troops in the Army of Northern Virginia, including Francis M. Poore in the 13th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, began the northward march that eventually would take them into history at the small crossroads town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Francis’ brother, William and the 16th Mississippi, a part of General A. P. Hill’s Third Corps, remained for the time at Fredericksburg, Virginia. Their job was to fool Union troops on the opposite side of the Rappahannock River about the rebel army’s location.

About mid-June, the 16th Mississippi, too, began the trek toward Pennsylvania. Their route took them through the Chancellorsville crossroads where the stench of death still hung over the battleground of a few weeks before.

James Johnson Kirkpatrick of the 16th Mississippi’s Company C recorded in his diary that the battlefield was “Very offensive now. Rights of sepulture badly performed . . . .” Discarded military equipment could be seen almost everywhere.

The teen-age William, who had been in but that one battle, may have been horrified when he saw some of the more hardened older veterans of the 16th kicking around a skull they had found. Another soldier of the regiment who didn’t share his comrades’ black humor finally took the skull and buried it.

Did you find any evidence that your Civil War ancestor became emotionally hardened to horrors around him? Perhaps his life after the war holds some clues. How did he treat others after the war was over?

Selected Source

Jess McLean, The Official Records of the 13th Mississippi Infantry Regiment—as told by those who were there. CD-rom. 2001.

Advertisements