Posts Tagged ‘American Civil War’

Normandy Invasion and the Cemetery

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 05 2015

Last year, I wrote this article about the invasion of Normandy, what went according to plan (some things) and what didn’t (most things). Quite honestly, if it hadn’t been for the dogged courage and sheer numbers of Allies that just kept running up that relatively-undefended beach, WWII might have gone on for much, much longer, or even ended differently.

 

Painted by military artist Joseph Gary Sheahan, 1944.  history.army.mil

“Omaha”  Painted by military artist Joseph Gary Sheahan, 1944. history.army.mil.  As usual with any image on this blog, click to see it at full resolution.

But no matter what, no matter how well the plan went, everyone involved knew that there would a a high cost in life. Even there, things did not always go as planned.  But how cemeteries like Normandy came about, had a long history, stretching back centuries.

What to do with the Battle Dead

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, in America and Europe, the battle dead were often buried near the battlefield, with little to no marker listing even a name. Most often, these graves were communal, so while you may know where your loved one was buried, he would not even have his own grave.

Taken from a 1905 archaeological excavation from the Battle of Visby.  The battle took place in 1361 on Gotland Island, Sweden.  These five mass graves are unusual as they were buried pell-mell while still wearing their expensive armor.   In most medieveal battles, bodies were stripped of their armor and weaponry before burial, but in this case, it appears that in the hot weather, 2,000+ bodies were more than the survivors or locals could strip before decomposition set in too far...so they were buried wearing all their battle armor.  A tragedy in the 14th century is now a grisly archaeological treasure.  Photo Source: Wikipedia.

Taken from a 1905 archaeological excavation from the Battle of Visby. The battle took place in 1361 on Gotland Island, Sweden. These five mass graves are unusual as they were buried pell-mell while still wearing their expensive armor. In most medieveal battles, bodies were stripped of their armor and weaponry before burial, but in this case, it appears that in the hot weather, 2,000+ bodies were more than the survivors or locals could strip before decomposition set in too far…so they were buried wearing all their battle armor. A tragedy in the 14th century is now a grisly archaeological treasure. Photo Source: Wikipedia.

Only the most influential would be able to have their remains shipped home for a warrior’s funeral (and even then, the corpse would be pickled in a barrel, hello Admiral Nelson!)

In the American Colonies/United States, the dead were buried more or less where they fell. My own fifth-great-grandfather, a man named Henry Dorton (later Dalton), narrowly missed being killed in a 1777 battle/incident now known as “Foreman’s Massacre”. The 22 dead in that incident were left for 24-48 hours until Dorton and those who didn’t die were able to lead others back to the area. The men were buried in a communal, unmarked grave until 1835, when the grave was marked. It wasn’t until 98 years after their deaths that the men were disinterred and moved to a cemetery, again, in a communal grave.

Another example of this mass battlefield burials (or non-burials) in Europe comes from the pen of  Louisa Adams,  First Lady of President John Quincy Adams.  In 1815, however, that was still in her future as she and her son traveled from St Petersburg Russia to Paris, where her husband was now stationed as a diplomat.  During the carriage ride, they had tried to avoid the battlefields and carnage stills strewn across Europe in the wake of Napoleon’s first series of wars.  But they failed.

“About a mile before we entered the town [of Hanau] I had observed a number of mounds like graves with crosses at their feet, in the ditches on the sides of the roads–we entered on a wide extended plain, over which was scattered remnants of clothes; old boots in pieces, and an immense quantity of bones laying in this ploughed field…this was the field of battle in which the Bavarians had intercepted the retreat of Napoleon, and that in this plain ten thousand men had been slain.  Conceive my horror at the sight of such a butchery!”  

The Battle of Hanau, painted by Vernet.  It currently hangs in the National Gallery in London.

The Battle of Hanau, painted by Vernet. It currently hangs in the National Gallery in London.  The road Louisa and her son passed over is likely in the background, heading to the town in the far back on the left.

Louisa was seeing the results of the Battle of Hanau, which had taken place sixteen months earlier.  Obviously, many of the approximately 13,500 dead from that “minor” battle were still visible over a year later.   It didn’t help that, while Louisa and her son traveled across Europe, Napoleon escaped Elba to start the wars again!

Some of these mass graves still come to light even centuries later.  Another Naopleonic-war mass grave was found in 2001 in Lithuania, for example.

 

The Civil War

Fifty years after Louisa, the Civil War in the United States changed many things in the nation, and the disposition of the war dead was one of them.

For one thing, it was now the Victorian Age. Not that Victoria had anything to do with it directly (at least, not until her beloved Prince Albert died in December 1861, when she turned death and mourning into an intricate art form) but both the British and American cultures had embraced an ideal of “dying a good death”. That is, dying surrounded by family, saying last words, being buried with dignity and grace.

But in the melee of the North verses the South, where Industrial Age Weaponry met traditional battle tactics, the sheer number of bodies that were left behind was far more than even the most hardened war veteran had conceived.  Bodies could be left open to the elements for days. Letters were written of the horror of seeing men, friends and family, laughing and living just days before, now being eaten by wildlife, exposed to the wilderness with no provision for death, burial, or proper remembrance.  The advent of photography on a scale that allowed the aftermath of battles to be photographed in detail also brought home the magnitude of the problem.  (For more on this topic, I recommend watching Ken Burn’s fascinating Death and the Civil War documentary. It’s usually available through PBS.)

As the months stretched into years, small feats of humanity were often the least that could be done for the dead and dying.

So many nameless men come down to us, speechless and dying, that now we write the names and regiments of the bad cases and fasten them to their clothing, so that if they are speechless when they reach other hands, they may not die like dogs, and be buried in nameless graves, and remain forever missing to their friends.” -Katherine Wormeley, civilian volunteer, US Sanitary Commission, and author of The other side of war: with the Army of the Potomac

Still, things were often impossible. The winners would bury their dead with as much dignity and identification as possible, but the enemy dead on the same battlefield would be left exposed, or thrown into a communal grave with no name recorded (in part because the other side would not have the records of who these men were).

A mass of dead after the Battle of Antietam.  I do not know if this is a prepratory mass grave, or where the dead laid after the battle. (If you know the story of this photos, please comment!)   But it was images like this that brought home the horror of war and the desire to have cemeteries, not matter how far from home, that gave a dignified resting place for the soldiers fighting.  Brady photograph.

A mass of dead after the Battle of Antietam. I do not know if this is a prepratory mass grave, or where the dead laid after the battle. (If you know the story of this photos, please comment!) But it was images like this that brought home the horror of war and the desire to have cemeteries, not matter how far from home, that gave a dignified resting place for the soldiers fighting. Brady photograph.

People who expected to lay their families to rest in family graveyards now faced the possibility that their men, who had marched off to defend their way of life, could be buried in a graveyard far from home, be buried in a mass grave with no marker, or worse, be forgotten and left to decay and be scavenged.  The government who called these men up and asked them to fight should, at the very least, people said, make sure that for those who fought for their country, at least had a decent burial in consecrated ground.  And so, in 1862, Abraham Lincoln established the first National Cemeteries, owned and operated by the Federal Government, not churches or localities.  After the war ended, the temporary battlefield dead were exhumed, identified if possible, and re-interred with dignity beneath a single marker.

World War I

Fighting abroad didn’t change this policy.  After WWI, the Americans created twenty-two cemeteries and memorials for their 70.000 war dead. The British, who had not anticipated the sheer numbers of dead modern war could create (the Americans had the “advantage” of the lessons of the Civil War), started WWI with no means of sorting, recording or identifying their dead at all.  For them, battlefield burials had been traditional mass graves near the battlefield or in the nearest cemetery, with little to no identification. Such burials were the norm for the “business” of war in Europe for a number of centuries.

This ended with the establishment of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission under the guidance of Sir Fabian Ware.

The WWI memorials, mostly in France and Belgium, spent years gathering, identifying, and repatriating or burying the dead of WWI.

Sadly, some of the WWI memorials were finished and dedicated as late as 1937, when it was all but certain the “Great War to End All Wars” wouldn’t be.

 

Normandy

Battle troops don’t carry coffins, or the means to bury the dead as a part of their primary duties. That was left to the Quartermasters, who also handled supplies. Thankfully, by WWII, military men carried “dog tags” on their person—a set of two. One tag remained with the dead, the second to go with the commanding officer, or burial detail. (Dog tags of various sorts were homemade during the Civil War, then manufactured by entrepreneurs for private purchase.  They became mandatory for the military in 1906 in the USA, were used by the Commonwealth from the beginning of WWI, and used by the Prussians as far back as the 1870s!)  This made tracking and naming the dead in both records and cemeteries much easier and more accurate.

So on June 6, 1944, as men landed on Normandy, the 604th Quartermasters were already assigned to land the next day, to take on the monumental task of burying the dead.

In the aftermath of the Omaha and Utah beach landings, the dead that could be located had been hurriedly buried by departing battle troops, often without the mattress cover to be used as a shroud. The arriving  Quartermasters were assigned to use land already selected near the towns of Cricqueville-en-Bessin and Sainte-Honorine des Pertes, but those towns still remained in enemy hands much longer than anticipated as the re-invasions slogged forward.

So the 604th Quartermasters continued to use the Omaha Beach cemetery.   As the battle troops drove deeper into France, then Belgium, then Germany, the 604th followed, burying men and recording names as they went.

This temporary cemetery would develop into the Normandy American Cemetery.  You can see just how close the cemetery was originally placed to the beach.  Taken 23 April, 1946, just after the war, and before any graves were moved or repatriated.  Photo Source: fold3.com

This temporary cemetery would develop into the Normandy American Cemetery. You can see just how close the cemetery was originally placed to the beach. Taken 23 April, 1946, just after the war, and before any graves were moved or repatriated. Photo Source: fold3.com

Following the war, with the heroic touchstone that Normandy proved to be, the decision was made to make Normandy one of two permanent WWII cemeteries in France.

To start with, each burial already in the temporary cemetery had to be exhumed, and families asked whether or not they wanted their loved one to remain in France, or be returned to a cemetery of the family’s choice.  In addition, there were single graves or small groups of graves buried with honor in village cemeteries all over France, where the local people had taken it upon themselves to bury airmen, paratroopers, escaped POWs, when they died in their locations.  These graves were often elaborately decorated with flowers and other remembrance tokens of the local French, who honored those who were fighting to re-take France from the Nazis.

Records differ, but between 60-66% of the American dead were returned home, those that remained in France were collected into the Normandy Cemetery and the Brittany American Cemetery.

In Normandy, the lawns of graves include the Garden of the Missing, for those who had been lost at sea, or whose remains had never been found in far-flung individual graves. Today, Rosettes are added to the wall if remains come to light and are identified. Just in front of the Garden, soars a 22-foot tall bronze statue: The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.

A chapel for prayer and reflection sits in the center of the cemetery.

Normandy American Cemetery was dedicated in 1957.  It covers over 172 acres, and still overlooks Omaha Beach, though it is now surrounded by a security wall.  The land it sits on has been gifted, in perpetuity, to the United States, which maintains the cemetery. Among the 9,387 graves include four women,  a father and son, and thirty-three sets of brothers.   One of these sets of brothers were the sons of American President Theodore Roosevelt.  Theodore Roosevelt Jr died of heart attack in July 1945, after helping lead the conquest of Utah Beach.  As he was to be buried in Normandy, his younger brother Quentin Roosevelt, who had died fighting WWI and was buried in a French graveyard, was exhumed and laid to rest beside him.  Quentin is the only WWI soldier to rest in Normandy Cemetery.

It is the most visited of the American Battle Monuments cemeteries.

Today, the dead are returned as part of war. Due to the constantly shifting battle lines of Korea, the dead were often shipped with the wounded to the closest MASH or secure unit to be sent home, rather than buried in foreign soil, which could then be re-taken by the enemy and desecrated or lost.  This is the pattern that is currently followed by the US Military.   There will, in most likelihood, but no more international cemeteries for American military.

But a little, shore-side temporary cemetery, begun in haste as the battle moved forward and left the shore behind, became one of the most famous cemeteries in America’s history.

The Normandy American Cemetery today.  Wikipedia.

The Normandy American Cemetery today. Wikipedia.

 

 

[1] A former intern of mine who went on to work at Fredricksburg and Spotsylvania, said that these mass graves still come to light from time to time.

[2] And again, sometimes these identities can be restored years later. In the show “Who Do You Think You Are?” actor Matthew Broderick discovered an ancestor, Robert Martindale, died in the battle of Peachtree Creek, but his remains had not been identified when they were re=interred in the Marietta National Cemetery. That identity was restored through paperwork alone…with the advances in DNA testing, more names can be restored in the future. Watch the exhumation of the Pearl Harbor dead as ithappens this year.

Horace Hunley and the Civil War Underwater Experiment Part 1: The PIONEER submarine

Uncategorized | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 18 2014

That line between Genius and Insanity is razor thin…just ask Horace Hunley, lawyer and submarine inventor.

The Hunley submarine, the first submarine to sink an enemy warship in war, sank 150 years ago today (within minutes of completing her claim to fame).  I will be putting together a week long blog about her development, sinking(s), crew, sisters, and finally, rediscovery.

The CSS HL HUNLEY, in her refrigerated conservation tank in Charleston, South Carolina. (only a few miles from the AMBERJACK's memorial, come to think of it.) Public Domain

It’s a fascinating story…but has several moments of, “Wait, they did What?  AGAIN?!” in it.

Most people don’t know this, but the CSS HUNLEY, who is getting all the attention this week, was the youngest of a submarine trio, and only one of MANY submarines designed and constructed for both sides of the American Civil War.  her two older sisters were the PIONEER and AMERICAN DIVER.

Despite the fact the Hunley is officially the first submarine to sink an enemy warship, it is not considered to be part of the official history of the Navy’s submarine force.  The Submarine Force’s start date is April 1, 1900, when the Navy purchased the HOLLAND (VI) from its inventor John P. Holland.

Of course, technically, the HUNLEY was invented, served, and was lost under the flag of the Confederate States of America, not the United States of America, so I suppose on some level, it makes sense.

Despite the use of submarines during war on American soil (the Turtle’s attack on the HMS EAGLE in 1776, and two more ‘submarine attacks” on British Ships during the War of 1812), and a number of other submarine developments and inventions world-wide, by the mid 19th century Navy of the USA did not have any plans to pursue submarines.   In fact when Hoosier SHOEMAKER Lodner Philips invented and successfully tested two submarines in Lake Michigan, in 1852, he offered to sell them to the US Navy.  Their response?  “No Authority is known to this Bureau to purchase a submarine boat…the boats used by this Navy go on, not under, the water.”

But of course, necessity is the mother of invention…and invention’s unspoken father? Desperation.

Just as soon as the United States split along the Mason-Dixon line, both the US Navy and the brand-spanking squeaky new Confederate Navy are willing to consider and even encourage any new technologies, no matter how cutting edge, dangerous or even foolhardy.

Leaving the Union and their “Alligator” for the moment, since this IS an article about Hunley and The Hunley, we’ll head to New Orleans.

Horace Hunley was a New Orleans lawyer, and like many men in the Americas at this time, liked to wear a few more hats, serving in the Louisiana Legislature as well as inventing.

As soon as what would become known as the American Civil War broke out, The Confederate Government authorized private citizens to operate as privateers (cause the new Confederate Navy is missing several critical items: ships!  (well, at least seaworthy ones, they didn’t have many of those).

Knowing that it would take years they didn’t have for the Confederate Navy to come close to matching the Union Navy in terms of ship numbers, the Confederacy turned to technological innovation, trying to make each ship more than a match for any on the other side.  Ironclads, torpedo boats, and even revisiting the submarine question.

Submarines became even more important as President Lincoln and the Union Navy, taking advantage of their pre-existing personnel, resources and numbers of ships, took advantage of the Confederacy’s Achillies Heel, and blockaded the new nation into its own boarders. Despite the wealth the South exported in the form of cotton to Europe, it had little infrastructure compared to the north, and required trade with the north and Europe to sustain its economy.  The blockade would end up destroying the South’s economy.

A submarine however, theoretically, could either run under the blockade itself, or attack and destroy enough Union ships that the  South could break through and trade with Europe or even gain recognition from European countries for its status and standing in the world.

Enter Horace Hunley in New Orleans. (New Orleans was one of the principal ports of the South and one of the particularly blockaded ports from the North.)

Hunley and two friends, Machinists James McClintock and Baxter Watson, began designing submarines. They quickly built one submarine, the PIONEER, and tested her in NOLA’s Lake Pontchartrain. Thirty feet long, four foot diameter, she had a hand cranked propeller, it was crewed by three men.  Two turned the propeller, and the third guy  got to do everything else.

File:PioneerSubDrawingStauffer.jpg

Sketches of the PIONEER showing the exterior, and interior plan. You can see the hand-cranked propeller on the right, towards the stern. The "periscope" in a way, is object "C". navsource.org

PIONEER proved she was seaworthy (after some modifications to stop small leaks), including being able to stay safely underwater up to two hours. Some accounts state that she sank a schooner and a couple of target barges using towed Torpedoes in Lake Pontchartrain.  (A Torpedo at this time was what we’d consider a “sea mine” today, an explosive device that blows on contact).  According to Donald Cartmell’s The Civil War Up Close: Thousands of Curious, Obscure and Fascinating Facts, two men died in the course of dive tests, though there does not appear to be evidence that the PIONEER herself sank.

https://i2.wp.com/www.hunley.org/final_images/contentlarge/HS_0146.jpg?resize=623%2C414

This shows the eventual HUNLEY, but you can clearly see how a submarine could easily sink something while dragging a buoyant "torpedo". The submarine, being underwater and several feet ahead and below the explosion (and presumably on the opposite side of the affected target) would probably have been well-shielded from the blast and sinking. from hunley.org

As with most inventions, once you have one, you start going, “Oh, next time we should do this, and this, move this here, that over there…”  As PIONEER continued her trials, Hunley, McClintock and Watson began designing a sister on paper.  But in the meantime, they received a letter of marque from the Confederate government, turning the PIONEER and any of her potential crews into legal pirates, allowed to attack ships and capture booty–so long as they limited themselves to Union ships and booty.

But New Orleans was too important to the Union Troops.  A year after the war began, Union troops landed in massive numbers, overwhelming NOLA’s defenses.  The  inventors had to evacuate to Mobile, Alabama with as many blueprints, designs and drawings they could carry, but there was no way to move PIONEER in time, and no way to reliably take her by sea to a safer port.  She had to be scuttled, better lost to all now than show the incoming Union troops what Hunley and his team had already accomplished.

Sadly, the attempt didn’t work.  The PIONEER was found and raised by Union troops.  U.S. Navy Lieutenants Alfred Colin and George W. Baird of the USS Pensacola‘s engineering department thoroughly studied this strange ship and forwarded their drawing to their fleet engineer.  These documents were lost until around 1994, when historian March Ragan found them in the National Archives.  The drawing below was included in that report (note the “Rebel” in the “Rebel Submarine Ram” title.)

File:PioneerSubDrawingShock.jpg

The Union Troops drawing of the PIONEER. This was the drawing that finally proved the submarine on display for years in New Orleans wasn't the PIONEER. (see below). From navsource.org

 

The PIONEER remained high and dry until 15 February 1868, when she was sold at auction for $43 worth of iron scrap.  And so ended one of the great experiments in marine technology.

Strangely though, PIONEER apparently had some competition.  In 1878, while dredging the St. John Bayou channel, another iron submarine was discovered. Incorrectly identified as the “Pioneer” for years, (because no one seems to have made the connection between the weird vessel sold ten years earlier for scrapping and this thing) it’s now known that this was a different boat altogether.  But that’s about all that’s known.  To date, no one has been able to conclusively find any records, documentation or any indication of what she was called, who designed or built her, or anything else.  As mysterious an artifact as you’ll ever find from the Civil War, it underwent conservation in 1999 (to remove the cement “conservators” filled her with in 1908!) and is now on display in the Louisiana State Museum in Baton Rouge.

(Apparently, there is a current theory regarding this strange boat.  Historian Francis Chandler Furman theorizes that this vessel might have been a scale model working prototype of what should have been a much larger vessel to be constructed in Confederate shipyards.  If true, it would have been made at Tredegar Iron Works of Richmond Virginia (makers of steam engines, rifles, cannons and  iron cladding for CSS VIRGINIA, among other things) and may have been sent to New Orleans through Edward M. Ivens, Tredegar’s New Orleans agent, possibly for testing, or even to be the pattern for the New Orleans shipyards.)

 

File:Subsoldiershome.jpg

The unknown submarine, at its outdoor display site, where it remained until 1999. It's now housed inside the Louisiana State Museum. wikipedia.org

Based on the blueprints left behind, a life-size PIONEER has been re-created and is now on display at the Lake Pontchartrain Museum in Louisiana.

Meanwhile, back in 1862, on their way to Mobile, Alabama, with as many designs as they could salvage, the Hunley trio already had a new name in mind: AMERICAN DIVER.  And unlike her now-lost older sister, she’d have a new innovation: engine power.

 

More Information:

The HL Hunley in Historical Context