The battle of Gettysburg occurred during the middle of the summer and high temperatures. There were 7,000 corpses, 5,000 dead horses and 22,000 wounded and dying Union and Confederate soldiers in and around the environs of Gettysburg. As the Confederate Army began their long retreat southward back toward Virginia they managed to take an additional 11,000 of their own wounded with them in a wagon train that was seventeen miles long. This small town was not prepared to handle the human carnage and suffering that they would have to endure over the next few days and weeks. From July 4 through the 7th they were virtually on their own. During the day on July 4, it was not safe to walk the streets because Confederate sharpshooters or snipers were taking shots at anything that moved in Gettysburg from Seminary Ridge. Several citizens were wounded that day. Late in the afternoon the Union Army left in pursuit of the Confederate Army leaving the citizens of Gettysburg to fend for themselves. Next, the human vultures swooped down on the town robbing the dead and wounded soldiers, rifling through their pockets for any valuables, ignoring the cries of the wounded. Whole families of men women and children were guilty of this.
The grave diggers from the Union Army at first tried to bury each soldier in a deep grave but this became impractical because the bodies were rapidly decomposing in the summer heat. Then they started digging shallow graves throwing in at least three bodies at a time. Toward the end they were digging burial trenches shoving in 150 bodies at a time. There were crews burning the dead horses on huge pyres. The smell was overwhelming. People doused themselves with cologne or smeared peppermint oil and penny royal under their noses to camouflage the odor. The dead were lying in every conceivable position. Captain Francis Donaldson of the 118th Pennsylvania said " as far as the eye could see, the dead lay in all manner of shapes, some upon their faces, others upon their backs...There were others who had clutched the leaves and grass in their death struggle, whilst their mouths were filled with the soil as they had literally bitten the dust".
On July 7th a horde of volunteers began pouring in from all over the North. The U.S. Sanitary Commission, which was the predecessor of the Red Cross, sent in nurses and doctors. Nearby towns and cities sent help. Washington sent troops to arrest the looters and thieves. The Union Commander called them vultures and inhuman creatures. Families came to claim their dead soldiers. They hired a horde of morticians to embalm their dead and the coffin makers had a brisk business. Coffins were stacked everywhere. The last body was buried just before Lincoln arrived to give his Gettysburg Address in November.
|An "Inhuman creature" arrested for robbing the dead.|
|Mortician embalming a dead soldier|