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Dedication Ode by B.;YARD TAYLOR,
ORIGIN AND HISTORY
Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg.
HE memorable battle of Gettysburg took place on the first, second and third
days of July, 1863, and on the twenty-first of the same month, David Wills,
Esq., a citizen of Gettysburg, addressed the following letter to His Excellency A. G. Curtin, Governor of the State of Pennsylvania :
GETTYSBURG, July 24th, 1863.
To His ExceLLENCY A. G. Cortin, Governor.
DEAR SIR,—Mr. Seymour is here on behalf of his brother, the Governor of New York, to look after the wounded, etc., on the battle field, and I have suggested to him, and also the Rev. Mr. Cross, of Baltimore, and others, the propriety and actual necessity of the purchase of a common burial ground for the dead, now only partially buried over miles of country around Gettysburg.
There is one spot very desirable for this purpose. It is the elevated piece of ground on the Baltimore turnpike, opposite the Cemetery. It is the place where our army had about forty pieces of artillery in action all Thursday and Friday, and for their protection had thrown up a large number of earthworks for the artillerists. It is the point on which the desperate attack was made by the Lousiana Brigades on Thursday evening, when they succeeded in reaching the guns, taking possession of them, and were finally driven back by the Infantry, assisted with the artillery men, with their handspikes and rammers. It was the key to the whole line of our defences, the apex of the triangular line of battle. It is the spot above all others for the honorable burial of the dead who have fallen on these fields. There are two lots of ground, together making eight acres, about three and a half acres belonging to Mr. Raffensperger, and four and a half to Mr. Menchy, and I called on them for the purpose of ascertaining whether it could be bought. They would not sell it for any other purpose, but offer to sell it for the purpose named for $200 per acre each. This is not much out of the way, and I think it should be secured at once and the project started. I refer the matter to you for your careful consideration and decision.
In examining the Act of 26th February, 1862, passed the Legislature in 1862, pp. 550-1, I think that both sections of that Act are broad enough to cover this matter, and that the Act contemplates such an arrangement as I have suggested.
Our dead are lying on the fields unburied (that is no grave being dug), with small portions of earth dug up alongside of the body and thrown over it. In many instances arms and legs, and sometimes heads, protrude, and my attention has been directed to several places where the hogs were actually rooting out the bodies and devouring them. And this on Pennsylvania soil, and in many cases the bodies of the patriotic soldiers of our State. Humanity calls on us to take measure's to remedy this; and I think that it was in the contemplation of the Legislature of 1862 to remedy such matters, by making provisions for the honorable burial of the dead of our State who may fall on the field.
My idea is for Pennsylvania to purchase the ground at once, so as to furnish a place for the friends of those who are here seeking places for the permanent burial of their fallen ones, to inter them at once, and also be a place for the burial of the hundreds who are dying here in the hospitals. The other States would certainly, through their Legislatures, in co-operation with our own Legislature, contribute towards defraying the expenses of appropriately arranging and decorating the grounds. The graves that are marked on the field would, of course, be properly marked when removed to the Cemetery, and the bodies should be arranged, as far as practicable, in order of Companies, Regiments, Divisions and Corps.
Dr. Winslow, of the United States Sanitary Commission, tells me that the United States Government furnish coffins, and did heretofore furnish a large amount of walnut or locust head-boards, on which the name, etc., was burnt into the wood. If the United States Government would furnish these, I think the bodies could be disinterred and buried in this place for about $3.50 or $4 each.
I hope you will feel justified in authorizing the immediate purchase of this ground, and the removal of the Pennsylvania dead in the field to it. I think that an arrangement can be made with the olher States at once for the removal of all the dead, known and unknown. We have a man here who superintended the burial of our dead for General Patrick, and knows where they are, and where the Rebel graves are, so that there would be no mistake in taking up the bodies.
I know the soldiers in the field would feel most grateful for such a proper mark of respect, on the part of our Chief Executive, for his fallen comrades, and the multitude of friends of the fallen dead, at home, would rejoice to know that the bodies of their brave kindred have been properly cared for by our Governor.
You will please favor me with an early answer. If the matter is delayed I am afraid the owners of the land might be operated on by speculators. With great respect, I remain yours truly,
Governor Curtin, a few days after the battle, visited Gettysburg, traversed the battle field, and visited the several hospitals in and around that town, for the purpose