Frequently Asked Questions
Where is my ancestor buried?
Once a soldier dies, decomposition begins one to three hours after death. Many factors attribute to the rate of decomposition to include but not limited to age, body fat, bacteria present in the body, fever, dehydration, environmental temperature, humidity, and degree of exposure to the air. The greater the temperature, exposure to the environment, and moisture increases the rate of decomposition. If the soldier had a fever at the time of death also increases the rate of decomposition.
Having the body penetrated by a projectile(s) and having the body cavity or head opened also will accelerate the process. External signs of decomposition such as change in body color, the epidermis separating from the dermis, and gases emanating from the body cavity and its orifices can take place with just a few hours of death. Therefore, every effort was made to hastily bury the dead at the first opportunity. As a result, soldiers were buried in hasty and often mass graves. This was particularly true of soldiers of the 39th Georgia since the Army of Tennessee often did not occupy the ground over which they had just fought. Often it was left up to the victorious Federals to bury the Rebel dead and they would often not take care in digging deep graves so often bodies were partially unearthed by animals, weather, or by farmers plowing fields.
If the soldier survived the initial wounding and was evacuated back he would enter into the hospital system. Normally first would come the field hospital just a short distance from the scene of the fighting. This was normally set up in a preexisting building such as a church, private home, barn, other public building, or in a series of tents. These locations were temporary and were re-located depending on the tactical situation. The dead were often interned in the nearest cemetery or open field. General hospitals were often in towns and occupied hotels, factories, churches, and warehouses. They were often mobile and Dr. Samuel H. Stout and his network of hospitals supporting the Army of Tennessee no doubt saved many lives. If a soldier died in these General hospitals they would be interned in the nearest cemetery designated for burials. Only rarely would soldier’s remains be taken from the hospital back to their home. The only time I am aware of this happening was early in the regiment’s history (summer 1862) when soldiers suffering from disease were in Chattanooga hospitals and on occasion the family was present and they would take the body home.
Prisoners of War Camp:
Soldiers that died in Northern Prisoner of War Camps were buried in the prison cemetery. Some graves are marked but many are not and I am not aware of any that were removed by family and returned to their native South. It is clear that if a 39th Georgia soldier died in Camp Douglas, Illinois that it is possible that their body may not have been properly interned at all. There is evidence that soldiers that died may have had their remains sold to medical schools, buried in shallow graves without coffins, or dumped in Lake Michigan. For more information on this tragedy read To Die in Chicago: Confederate Prisoners at Camp Douglas, 1862-1865, by George Levy.
Post-bellum Re-internment: To Be Published.
There are no known "Group" wartime photos of the 39th Georgia. I have several wartime photos of individuals and they are posted on the website at the link labeled “Photographs." You will see several at different time periods during the war.
What are the Compiled Service Records (CSR)?
The Compiled Service Record (CSR) is a compilation of reference cards and original documents. The individual reference cards refer to a original document that has several or numerous names that pertain to different individuals. For example, a Company Muster Roll will have approximately 110 soldiers names on it. The War Department Clerk (post-bellum, late 1800's) would take one of the cards and write the proper reference material at the top and put the pertinent data on it (i.e. Company Muster Roll, January- March 1864, dated April 1864, Present, Absent, Deserted, etc.) for that individual soldier.
The surviving records of Confederate hospitals are few and far between. The first location one should check is the soldier's Compiled Service Record (CSR). The "cards" (with the exception of original records in the record) refers to another original record where his name appears. So, therefore, if Private Johnny Reb's name appears on a "card" then look down at the bottom of it and it should give some numbers (usually Chapter, volume, page number) that point to where his name was taken from.
Some records have survived outside the National Archives. Many of the Army of Tennessee's medical administration records that did survive were thanks to the efforts of Surgeon Samuel H. Stout. A very good book on the subject is Confederate Hospitals on the Move : Samuel H. Stout and the Army of Tennessee by Glenna R. Schroeder-Lein, published 1994. One of Stout's daughters sold portions of the records to various collectors and archives over the years and as a result are pretty geographically dispersed.
Below are several known locations of records noted by the National Archives for Chattanooga Hospitals, however, there are a lot more Chattanooga Hospitals and this does not include the Catoosa Spring hospital. The book referenced above gives several locations of his records in the bibliography.
Foard Hospital (Chattanooga): A register of patients, November 2, 1861-March 15, 1863 (one volume), is in the Texas Archives at the UT Library (S.H. Stout Collection)
Newsom Hospital (Chattanooga): A register of patients, July 26, 1862-July 14, 1863 (four volumes), The register for December 1862-January 8, 1863, includes a list of sick in wounded Federal prisoners received.
Smallpox Hospital (Chattanooga): Record Group 109 (National Archives), Orders and circular received, May 22-August 15, 1863 (Chapter VI, Volume 274, page 3-18).
Generally speaking, the General Hospital system would first requisition existing permanent facilities and use tents or other temporarily structures as a backup. The Army of Tennessee's system, headed by Samuel H. Stout, was probably the best and especially given that it had to relocate the entire hospital and casualties several times. Confederate Hospitals on the Move does a good job looking at the challenges that this created.
The doctors, nurses, and other health care givers of the time in those hospitals were likely the most experienced of the time period. Sanitation was an evolving concept and Louis Pasteur's first successful germ theory experiment was not until April 1862 in France. His theory would put the first nail in the coffin of the belief in spontaneous generation. My wife and I often joke about if we could travel back in time when would we like to go back to. Mine is on the north end of Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863. Hers is anytime after the advent of antibiotics...not before.
In regards to the Vicksburg parolees, a huge number did not return to duty when they were required to in August and September 1863. This is the fact I found in my research of both Georgia troops and Vaughn's Tennessee Brigade. I believe there are a myriad of reasons and in my book on the 39th Georgia I will need to dedicate an entire chapter to it because of the complexity of the issue.
I do not believe that there was a conspiracy (yet) but I know that the omissions, gaps, etc are great enough that I seriously question the research method. In the 39th Georgia alone, I have found at least two dozen soldiers that were in the CSR's that were not in Henderson's list.
Lillian Henderson's books are a good starting point but lack a lot of detail (emphasis, exclamation point, flashing neon light insert here). I have been through hundreds of CSR's and Georgia Confederate Indigent Widow's and Soldier's Pensions and I can tell you that information was overlooked, missed, or omitted.
I have done quite a bit of comparing and contrasting of the CSR’s and the Georgia Confederate Veteran's and Widow's Indigent Pensions (Henderson's primary sources) as it relates to the 39th Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment and found that a huge amount of data is left out or completely ignored. I have seen this in multiple regiments and just not the 39th Georgia. Unfortunately, many historians use Henderson’s book as their primary source and as a result it will skew any research data. This could be further from the truth. I have verified that many of my soldiers in the 39th Georgia that show "no later record" after April 1864 where wounded during the Atlanta campaign. It is important to remember that Henderson had a team of folks helping her out and I do not believe they had a template or consistent instructions on what to incorporate into the work. I have spoken to one of the Archivist at the Georgia State Archives about my findings several months ago. When I publish my regimental history, I will have totally reworked the data to reflect a wide range of primary sources and it will be a CD supplement to the actual history. The CD data is already over 200 pages long and it will grow by several hundred more before it is done.
I have been through about 300 pension records and compared most of them to Henderson's entries and on top of that have looked at looked at many of the CMSR's. It is clear that there is conflict between what the CSR may have and the pension record shows. This is particularly true when it comes to trying to adjudicate soldier's stories that had deserted. Sometimes when a CSR clearly states that a soldier deserted it is clearly not mentioned in Henderson's. It was not something I happened to be looking for but found it was a trend that I noticed. Why some are mentioned and others are not I am not sure about either. That is why I am curious about the research method her and her team happened to take.
OK, this might be a "Frequently Asked Question" but an educational opportunity.