Funeral Customs Feed

The battlefield cross

Kathleen Golden

Carved wooden temporary grave marker of Lieutenant Charles R. Carville, a member of the 165th New York Volunteers who died at Port Hudson May 27, 1863, during the American Civil War. Division of Armed Forces History, Nation Museum of American History.

The first appearance of the "battlefield cross" is a matter of conjecture. It might have been during the Civil War, to signify a dead soldier to be gathered and buried during a truce called for that purpose. Soldier dead were buried in graves in temporary cemeteries near the battlefields, identified by simple wooden plaques. The configuration of the rifle pointed downward with a helmet perched on the stock was a more common sight during World War I and World War II. While the battlefield cross still acted as marker so that the Graves Registration Service personnel could remove the body for burial, it also began to serve as a memorial. Although it is called a cross, the memorial has no overt religious context.

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Coffin from Civil War uncovers mystery

Smithsonian / AP Anthropologist Kari Bruwelheide, right, and Doug Owsley, head of physical anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History, center, and others, examine the remains of an iron coffin at the museum in Washington.

The rusty iron coffin stubbornly resisted hammer and chisel as researchers in a warm Smithsonian laboratory sought a glimpse of an American who lived more than a century and a half ago.

An electric drill, its orange cord snaking around the pre-Civil War artifact, finally freed the lid.

"This is a person and we want to tell this person's story. She is our primary obligation," anthropologist Doug Owsley said as the lid was lifted to reveal a young body wrapped in a brown shroud.

The scientists hope to identify the remains so they can have a properly marked grave. In the process, they have a chance to learn about mortuary practices of the period, what disease and trauma people may have suffered, their diet, past environments, clothing and perhaps even social customs.

Based on the small size, they had expected the coffin to contain a female body. On examination, it turned out to be a boy, about age 13.

Read the full article at NBC News