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AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive

Is your ancestor really under that marker?

With Memorial Day coming up, it's a good time to bring up the subject of burials, and reinterments.

Since at least the Civil War (I can't vouch for previous wars)in the United States it has been common practice to bury soldiers at a battle site (For health reasons if nothing else) and rebury them at a later date. In other cases, Burials were removed from the original site at a prison camp, hospital or other site. A third instance is the one I really wish to address.

In my research, and work with some of the Forts here in NM/TX to verify burial sites I have found many discrepancies. There are several reasons for those discrepancies. First, as forts were decommissioned, burials were removed to larger military cemeteries-most of which are now National Cemeteries. Secondly, since some forts had closed and reopened more than once, and original burial records may have been lost. Thirdly, original wooden markers decayed and fell apart, were destroyed by vandals or enemies during abandonment or capture.

So, it is not surprising that some names and locations have been lost-but the problem is much larger than you can imagine. In trying to track some burials from Fort Bayard and Fort Craig, for the Archaeologist at Craig, I referred to my records. I had copies of the burial register for Ft. Bayard,the official Fort Bliss transcript of burials, a grave by grave inventory at Bayard that I did a couple of years ago, and interment records.
First discrepancy. I had more men buried at Fort Bayard than were accounted for in the cemetery, or in the "official" interment records kept at Fort Bliss-to the tune of 38 burials.

Second discrepancy. Fort Cummings records list several burials moved from Fort Bayard to Fort Cummings-which made little sense. Cummings was much smaller and more remote, and was decommissioned earlier than Bayard.

Third discrepancy. Soldiers who died at Fort Bayard by other military records-but had no burial record there.

When Fort Craig was closed the first time, it does not seem that the burials were moved-but records are scant. In Feb-1862, the battle of Valverde took place at Craig, and we have been trying to determine first-exactly how many people died.(Both sides exagerrated the losses) and what happened to them. According to the military, the bodies were moved during decommission to Fort Leavenworth. This made little sense to me, since there were closer possibilities. The Fort Craig personnel couldn't find these bodies, so called on me. I indeed found a number of them. BUT!!!, and this is a big BUT although the military records has them all at Leavenworth, I found several at Santa Fe, and we have never located most of the missing Spanish surname casualties, either in fort burials or Catholic cemeteries.

In my copies of original interment records, I have an intriguing entry that seems to indicate a mass grave. It reads grave.#.... burials xxx to yyy and the next grave number is very much larger-to the tune of about 80+ bodies, with a burial date the day after Valverde. So it would seem to be related wouldn't it? But who were they-it is a much larger number than would fit unidentified bodies from the battle, there is no "mass grave" of unknowns or otherwise from that date at any place I can locate. So, if it was a mass grave, are they still there? We are trying to determine that right now, with modern sounding equipment.

All of this has come about, because of cemetery vandalism. But it highlights a valid point. Burials get moved, they get mismarked, they get "lost." Fort McKavett in Texas is an example of "lost" burials. About a year ago, they discovered quite a large number of previously unknown burials. These had never been moved-and since it was common practice to continue segregation into the grave, Black soldiers and others were usually buried apart from white graves-even within the same cemetery. At McKavett, they were clearly military burials-and id processing goes on.

So, if you have a Civil War or Indian Wars ancestor who served somewhere else than where his final burial place is supposed to be, it would be worthwhile to verify that ancestor really was moved.


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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