My fictional burial of the Confederate dead after the battle of Fort Sanders may seem contrived, but it followed the few histories written about such things, particularly Drew Gilpin Faust’s “This Republic of Suffering.”
Sometimes, in fact, there was no burial at all after a battle, as the armies simply moved on, leaving the dead on the ground where they fell. Sharpsburg is an example. Gettysburg is another. Or, in the case of Cold Harbor, there was burial, but only in place.
There, “….there was the stink of the bloated bodies of dead horses and mules and the human dead “lying unburied in a burning sun,” recalled Union Gen. Andrew A. Humphreys, Meade’s chief of staff, after the war.
But the armies were still facing each other at Cold Harbor, and the situation became intolerable until Grant finally sent in a flag of truce, ostensibly for the wounded to be gathered up.
The search parties found few wounded. Most had crawled or been carried behind their lines during the night. So the search parties became burial details and, Humphreys recalled, “The dead were buried where they lay.”