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A Burial Party, Cold Harbor, Virginia
negative April 1865; print 1866
Albumen silver print
17.3 x 22.7 cm (6 13/16 x 8 15/16 in.)
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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