Monday, November 26, 2007

Here Rests in Honored Glory (Springfield National Cemetery) - Part I - "The Sinkhole"

A few weeks ago I posted a review of the book, Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, & Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide with a Section on Wire Road (University of Nebraska Press, 2006). One of the (very) few criticisms I had is that the book was rather light on including associated national or local cemeteries as part of the battlefield tours (at least as "optional excursions).

To that end, I am posting some personal photos (from my last trip to the battlefield and cemetery) and information regarding the Springfield (Missouri) National Cemetery, in hopes that it will augment the book's tour and/or prompt readers of the blog to include the cemetery on future visits to the area.

The story of the cemtery actually begins with the aftermath of the battle itself, and a tour stop at Wilson's Creek National Battlefield called "The Sinkhole" (which is nicely covered in the book). The Confederate army was left in possession of the battlefield with most of the wounded and dead to tend. The August weather was typically hot and putrefaction began to set in. There was a scarcity of coffins and markers, and the burials were necessarily imperfect. Many of the Federal dead were thrown into this sinkhole. When the Springfield National Cemetery was established in 1867, the contractor for removal of bodies from the battlefield removed the remains of 183 Union soldiers from the field, including more than thirty from the "Sinkhole" alone.

Confederate soldier W. H. Tunnard, of the Third Louisiana, remembered:

"Soon after the battle ended the enemy; under a flag of truce, commenced attending to their dead, dying and wounded. All the remainder of the 10th, after the conclusion of the battle, and during the whole night, seven of their six-mule teams were busily engaged carrying off their dead and wounded. Early Sunday morning, [I] was detailed as sergeant of a large force to finish the burial of the enemy's dead.

"Armed with shovel, pickaxe and spade, the detail proceeded to the principal point of the battlefield to complete this mournful task, which the enemy, unable to accomplish, had abandoned in despair. The ground was still thickly strewn with the ghastly and mangled forms. Fifty-three bodies were placed in a single grave, all gathered within the compass of one hundred yards. These were hastily covered with brush and stones, when the detail precipitately departed.

"The effluvia from the swollen, festering, blackened forms, already covered with worms was too horrible for human endurance. Hundreds unburied were left food for the worms, fowls and beast of the earth. No conception of the imagination, no power of human language could do justice to such a horrible scene."

From: Tunnard, W. H., A Southern Record: The History of the Third Regiment Louisiana Infantry (1866)

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