Dog Tags and Unknown Graves
I expect tomorrow to post a page with information about the Canadian recipients buried in this country, any memorials dedicated to them here and provide some tidbits about actual medals that are known to exist today in Canada.
But today, in advance of these details I thought I would talk for a few minutes about many graves of the dead soldiers and sailors of that era. Many that are simply marked with the sad commentary that the name of the deceased is unknown.
During the war the US government did not issue any form of identification to most that went off to war. Neither did the officials of the day expect that the war would go on as long as it did, or that they would be faced with such horrendous and ongoing casualties. Men seeing the dead and dying around them turned to their own means to try and leave some form of identification of their body in the event that they would die of disease or war injuries. Some would scratch their names onto their leather belts. Others would try and stitch in their names or simply write them on pieces of paper and affix these somehow to the inside of the uniform. But with the ongoing battles the dead were left where they died in the hopes that within hours or days they might, at the very least, be buried along side the battlefield. Some would end up simply in mass graves. Later attempts to identified the men were obviously near impossible.
A perfect example of this is the story that you will hopefully read in a future blog about Ontario born Denis Buckley who was killed in the Battle Of Peachtree Creek in Georgia and buried at the site of the action. Later his remains were moved to a final resting spot, but he was buried under the WRONG NAME, and remained so buried for 140 yrs until just a few years back, and after considerable reaearch, a US historian found his grave and took steps to have a new correct marker unveiled.
Some more industrious men carved their names on coins and drilled holes so that they could be affixed to uniforms or worn around the neck. Others often bought a dog tag that a sutler made on the spot in the camp. This would usually include the fellow's name, (hopefully the right one as many signed up under an alias) his unit and sometimes his home of residence at the start of the war.
The above pictured dog tag was purchase by Mathew Elslager who was a cooper by trade and was born in New Brunswick. At the age of 36 he found himself in the US and joining the 1st Maine Heavy Artilery were a number of other Canadians also served. One even went on to earn the MOH, but I'll save that for another blog. Mathew served his 3 yr term and survived the war.
Many others did not. Having failed to get..or lost personal identification, the resulting number of unmarked graves in the National Cemeteries of the US alone is alarming. A recent figure of the net tells that there are 325,230 soldiers or sailors buried in these government cemeteries. And of these almost 148,883 are unmarked graves. There are no doubt many more that are buried in private cemeteries all across the United States.
Tomorrow I will post images of the known graves of the Medal of Honor recipients buried here in Canada.
Hope you will join me.