The J. Paul Getty Museum

A Burial Party, Cold Harbor, Virginia

Object Details


A Burial Party, Cold Harbor, Virginia


John Reekie (American, active 1860s)

Print by Alexander Gardner (American, born Scotland, 1821 - 1882)




Washington, District of Columbia, United States (Place Created)

Cold Harbor, Virginia, United States; Mechanicsville, Virginia, United States (Place Depicted)


April 1865


Albumen silver print

Object Number:



17.3 × 22.7 cm (6 13/16 × 8 15/16 in.)

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Object Description

This gruesome scene depicts the unpleasant job of burying the remains of fallen Union soldiers from the June 1864 battles of Gaines' Mill and Cold Harbor. This task has fallen to a group of black men doing the menial work while a white man standing at upper left acts as overseer. The man seated in the center, next to the stretcher laden with human parts, looks directly at the camera, revealing no emotion that can be reconciled with his grisly cargo.

Already reduced to nothing more than a pile of bones, these bodies lay unburied for ten months until the war's end, while the blistering heat and humidity of the Virginia summer hastened their decomposition. Local residents usually came forth to give a proper burial to the enemy troops that fell near their homes, but the scale of the casualties here--nearly sixty thousand Union soldiers were killed or wounded in this area--precluded this courtesy.

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  • Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center at UCLA (Los Angeles), January 24 to April 2, 1995
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  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), November 3, 2009 to March 21, 2010