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News: Dead Men Do Tell Tales

By CIVIL WAR TIMES MAGAZINE
OCTOBER 2018 • CIVIL WAR TIMES MAGAZINE

In 2014, Manassas National Battlefield Park employees digging a maintenance trench discovered evidence of a burial pit. NPS experts, assisted by Douglas Owsley and Kari Bruwelheide, forensic anthropologists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, excavated and studied the site in October 2015. Two complete sets of remains, 11 amputated partial limbs, and several artifacts were recovered from the burial site, associated with the location of a field hospital from the Second Battle of Bull Run.

The complete remains are from two Caucasian males, 25-34 years old. One of the soldiers was found with an Enfield bullet still lodged in his upper thigh bone, and three fired lead buckshot were found with the other casualty. It is likely that a field surgeon determined that both soldiers had injuries too severe to be operated on successfully. “The discovery tells us about the difficult decisions doctors faced about who could be helped and who could not,” said Brandon Bies, superintendent of MNBP.

Several clues indicate the men were Union soldiers. English-made Enfield bullets were used almost exclusively by the Confederate army at Second Manassas, and Union jacket buttons were found with the man who died from buckshot wounds. In addition, it could be determined that the soldiers were from Northeastern states based on isotope analyses that showed they consumed food and water from that region while their bones were forming.

The two soldiers will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery later this year in coffins constructed from a downed tree from the battlefield, and will be the first burials in the Millennium Expansion of the cemetery.

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