Twenty Acres of Skulls

A burial party at Cold Harbor with a bier full of skulls of bones. Library of Congress

A remembrance of the horrors of war for this Memorial Day weekend.

 A MODERN GOLGOTHA

Malvern Hill, One Year After the Battle, Was a Field of Skulls.

“I think the ghastliest sight I ever saw,” said Sheriff Barnes yesterday, “was during the late war on the field of Malvern Hill. I was in the battle, and a more terrible battle I never witnessed. But that is not the exact time to which I refer. About a year after the battle was fought my regiment was ordered out into the neighborhood of the same old field. We went over the very same ground, and there in the open field,  exposed to the torrid sun, were bleaching the bones of our comrades who fell in that awful engagement. It was a sight I shall never forget. On every side lay a waste of skulls—skulls of almost every shape and size—a modern Golgotha. We could not identify them, however, and could only gaze with a feeling of sorrow on the aggregate pile of human heads that had once been full of life and feeling. After the deeper emotions excited by the spectacle had worn away, I thought of the infinite variety of shapes that were presented by the heap. There were no two of the same shape or size, and it was rather a matter of course, though melancholy, interest, to inspect the different skulls as they lay crumbling in the sultry atmosphere of that August day. It was, after all, a mournful sight, and one that was full of abiding pathos, to think that all that was left of the gallant men that figured in the fight of that eventful day was a lot of skulls that were now beyond recognition, and that would soon be a part of the dust on which we were standing. Such is a picture of that awful sight, and only one of the many horrid scenes in the portraiture of war.” Atlanta Constitution. 

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 25 March 1893: p. 12

Abiding pathos did not long abide in the face of economic development:

MALVERN HILL

The Confederate Dead –Twenty Acres of Human Bones.

A correspondent thus writes of the Confederate burial place at Malvern Hill, Virginia:

“The cemetery keeper offered to act as our guide, and, after showing us the fort and its adjacent rifle-pits, he escorted us to a large field on the northwest side of the fort, and there a most terrible scene presented itself. Thousands of Confederate soldiers, who had fallen in their desperate and persistent attempt to take Fort Harrison, were buried by the Confederates where they fell. Twenty acres or more have just been plowed up by the owner of the field, and the plowshare turned to the surface all these skeletons. Over the whole tract the bones are strewn in profusion, and grinning skulls stare the visitor in the face on every hand.

“When the farmer was questioned, he said the land was now the richest piece he had, and in justification of his sacrilegious act, stated that ‘he didn’t put ‘em there, nohow.’ We learned afterward that the bones had been taken away by the cartload and sold to fertilizing mills in Richmond. Two humane men, too poor to do anything else, came one day we were there, and attempted to burn some of the bones to prevent the wretches from carting them off. But a long job they will have if they attempt to burn them all.”  

Cincinnati [OH] Commercial Tribune 3 May 1869: p. 6

For background on The Battle of Malvern Hill.  At this, the last battle in the Peninsula Campaign, the Confederates lost over 5,000 men without gaining any military advantage whatsoever.

As General D.H. Hill said after the Battle of Malvern Hill, “It wasn’t war, it was murder.”

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the DeadThe Ghost Wore BlackThe Headless HorrorThe Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Mourning and the Divorcee: 1904

 

Peter Robinson family and complimentary mourning

A woman who has divorced her husband would be guided by circumstances as to wearing mourning for him. Should he have married again and left a widow, it would be too absurd for two women to be wearing weeds for him; but if it should be thought advisable, in the interests of children, or for any other reason, for the woman who divorced him to wear mourning, she should do so, though without any exaggerated advertisement of regret. The children would wear mourning for their father, and it would be in singularly bad taste if their mother were not to don black and avoid colours until their period of mourning had expired. But a woman who has been divorced has no right to wear mourning for her former husband.

Women who are separated from their husbands have, in the same way, to be guided by a number of considerations as to whether they shall wear weeds or merely what is called “complimentary mourning” on the death of the man. An incident that occurred to a lady may be related as showing how difficulties may arise when a couple are separated. She had been living abroad with one of her sons for some years, and meanwhile her husband had formed a temporary union in England with some one else. This latter lady died, and a notice of her death, as wife of Mr. So-and-so, appeared in a great daily paper.

The real wife returned to England, knowing nothing of this, and was met in the street one morning by an old friend who, on seeing her, threw up his hands in amazement, as well he might. “Why!” he said, “I read of your death in the paper, and sent a wreath to your funeral!” When the recreant husband died, the real wife had to wear mourning for him in order to vindicate her position in the eyes of her world. Otherwise, her acquaintance might have believed her to be merely one of the transient ladies who, after the separation, had shared her husband’s home.

Etiquette for Every Day, Mrs Humphry, 1904: pp. 416-418

 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead and on Twitter @hauntedohiobook. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

The Widowed Mrs Lawrence Has the Most Heavenly Time: 1914

I wish I could be a widow. I can’t think of anything more fascinating or independent. Jack, who was seeing me home from saying goodby to Mrs. Lawrence, who was going to Europe, evidently didn’t think I showed a true womanly spirit in expressing such a desire.

Mrs. Lawrence has been a widow for a year, and has the most heavenly time. She never has to think about a chaperon, though she looks and acts as though she needed one; has handsome young men proposing all over her house: in fact. she had to send for a policeman to remove one the other day, because he became so insistent and threatened to shoot her. She has a million dollars, and does just as she likes from morning until night.

You never hear much about poor widows somehow. They generally lose interest in life, not being able to afford the most becoming mourning, and go around with swollen noses and children.

But Kitty Lawrence doesn’t do anything like that. She has an apartment in Paris and the most adorable little black Pomeranian named after her husband. She says, in spite of her grief, she thought of everything at the time Joseph died, and ordered the dog immediately and gave away her Boston bull. She says she’s always going to wear mourning for Joseph. Even if she remarried she will always dress in black, as it’s the most becoming color she can put on.

When Kitty married Joseph I felt sure he would not live long. He was awfully old and unsteady, and it was perfectly absurd for her to insist on his taking her for long horseback rides and walking trips. I told her it was the worst thing possible for his health and that Dr. Billings had said so when he was with me one day and she had gone tearing by on horseback with Joseph after her. A little while after that Kitty had a race course built on the place, also a large gymnasium. Six months after that Joseph died, and Kitty, after a fearful row with his relatives over the tombstone, went to Paris in order to get the proper mourning.

She even spent some time in Russia getting black furs. and now is going to London to get a set of black pearls. Joseph’s sisters said something about it being extravagant, but she told them it was Joseph’s money, and she considered it proper that as much as possible should be spent on his memory.

The eldest sister, who has never married and is always asking you to contribute to her Sunshine Society and diet kitchens, suggested that she go abroad with Kitty and help select the pearls, but Kitty said she wouldn’t dream of taking her away from her home and her charities and boring her with her poor little fads and fancies.

She was going to take Mr. Norton, Joseph’s secretary. She said she felt sorry for the poor young man, he had worked so hard. settling up the estate, he was quite worn out. She said common decency suggested he should have a holiday.

It was quite touching to see the anxiety she showed for fear she had overworked poor Norton. He’s about six feet two and built like a Samson, and it was very attractive to see how careful he was of her welfare, too.

She looked perfectly lovely in a little new black bonnet and white polo coat. We said goodby and told her not to overwork Mr. Norton selecting pearls. She said she’d try not to, as the trip was for his health, and she was also going to find him a rich wife.

If I were a widow I believe I’d stay one for a while.

The Herald [New Orleans LA] 26 February 1914: p. 5

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

A Mother’s Dying Love: 1840

mother rest lilies coffin plate funeral flowers

A MOTHER’ S DYING LOVE.

The plague broke out in a little Italian village. In one house the children were taken first. The parents watched over them, but only caught the disease they could not cure. The whole family died. On the opposite side of the way, lived the family of a poor laborer, who was absent the whole week; only coming home on Saturday night, to bring his scanty earnings. His wife felt herself attacked by the fever in the night. In the morning she was much worse, and before night the plague-spot showed itself. She thought of the terrible fate of her neighbors. She knew she must die, but, as she looked upon her dear boys, she resolved not to communicate death to them. She therefore locked the children into the room, and snatched her bed-clothes, lest they should keep the contagion behind her, and left the house. She even denied herself the sad pleasure of a last embrace. O think of the heroism which enabled her to conquer her feelings, and leave home and all she loved–to die. Her oldest child saw her from the window. “Good bye, mother ,” said he, with the tenderest tone, for he wondered why his mother left them so strangely. “Good bye, mother ,” repeated the youngest child, stretching his little hand out of the window. The mother paused. Her heart was drawn towards her children, and she was on the point of rushing back. She struggled hard, while the tears rolled down her cheeks, at the sight of her helpless babes. At length she turned from them. The children continued to cry, “Good bye, mother .” The sounds sent a thrill of anguish to her heart; but she pressed on to the house of those who were to bury her. In two days she died, recommending her husband and children to their care, with her dying breath.

The Jeffersonian [Stroudsburg PA] 23 June 1841: p. 1

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.