13. Aug, 2017


On June 20, 1872, a solemn procession of wagons bearing Richmond's first shipment of Confederate dead from Gettysburg made its way along Main street toward Hollywood Cemetery.

The city's streets and rooftops were jammed, according to a history of the cemetery by Mary H. Mitchell. The wagons were draped in white and black and covered with flowers and Confederate banners. Buildings were draped in mourning, and flags flew at half-staff. The procession was headed by a band, along with the mayor and city officials.

A thousand former Confederate soldiers followed, preceded by former Southern generals, including George E. Pickett, whose grand assault at Gettysburg had been smashed in the battle's climax. Five days earlier, the Powhatan Steamship Company had delivered 279 wooden boxes containing the remains of 708 Southern soldiers exhumed from the battlefield.

It took dock workers two and a half hours to unload them, Mitchell wrote. The boxes had been sent by Samuel Weaver's son, Rufus B. Weaver, who had carefully packed 239 bodies he could identify in individual boxes.

He had been unable to identify 469 remains in the shipment but surmised that, because of where they were buried, 325 of them had fallen in "Picketts Charge." He placed them in 27 boxes he labeled with the letter "P."

The rest of the unidentified bodies were found in other parts of the battlefield and were placed in 13 boxes.

Rufus Weaver had been born in Gettysburg and by 1869 was finishing his medical studies and was a "demonstrator of anatomy" at Philadelphia's Hahnemann Medical College.

As early as 1865, his father had started to get inquiries from Southern families seeking help finding the remains of loved ones killed at Gettysburg.

But Samuel Weaver was killed in February 1871, in a fluke railroad mishap.By then Southern social organizations in several cities had started lobbying and raising funds to return to the South those Confederate soldiers buried at Gettysburg.After the elder Weaver's death, Southerners turned to his son. Realizing that he was their best hope, Rufus Weaver agreed to help, according to Mitchell.

"It required one with anatomical knowledge, to gather all the bones," Weaver wrote later. "And regarding each bone important and sacred as an integral part of the skeleton, I removed them so that none might be left or lost."

By 1873, he had exhumed and shipped from Gettysburg the remains of more than 3,000 Southern soldiers to Richmond, Raleigh, Savannah and Charleston.

In his final report, David Wills, the Gettysburg lawyer who led the effort to create the national cemetery, spoke for families North and South.

He wrote of the anguish of those who had a father, son or brother vanish on the battlefield. Then his remains were found, identified and given a proper burial.

"Words fail to describe the grateful relief that this work has brought to many a sorrowing household," Wills wrote.