The work of interring 9,000 dead, and removing to comfortable quarters and caring for 20,000 wounded, was a herculean task. The Confederates had left the most of their unburied on the field as also a large number of their badly wounded. The number of surgeons was limited although increased by volunteers from the North, and their task so great that it is narrated in some instances the operators had to be supported while performing the operation, and fainted from exhaustion when finished.

The men were buried everywhere, when convenient in clusters of ten, twenty, fifty or more; but so great was the number and such the advanced state of decomposition of those that had been dead for several days, that they could not be removed, and were buried in slight ditches, in the fields or gardens, or by the roadside, just where they were found. Some fields contain hundreds of these graves, and in one, in the vicinity of Little Round Top, lie four hundred Confederate soldiers.


When the Union and Confederate forces left the battlefield at Gettysburg, they both left 50,000 dead, wounded, or missing behind. Burial teams were sent in to quickly cover the 8,000 bodies left on the battlefield until an interstate committee could be created to arrange for a military cemetery. The Union loss was 2,834 killed, 13,713 wounded, and 6,643 missing. The best estimates put the Confederate loss at 5,000 killed, 23,000 wounded and 8,000 unwounded prisoners.

Burying the dead was a monumental task. Most of the dead were buried either where they fell or at nearby field hospitals. Most of the Union dead were exhumed and moved to the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, whereas the Confederate dead remained in the ground for eight years until they were moved to Southern cemeteries. With so many dead, however, historians estimate that several hundred bodies were never reburied and remain in unmarked graves to this day. These Confederate soldiers fell at the foot of Big Round Top.

A plot of seventeen acres of land, situated on Cemetery hill adjoining the village cemetery was purchased, the title was vested in the State of Pennsylvania in trust for all the States having dead buried there. In laying out the grounds a semi-circular form was adopted, the head of each body pointing towards a common centre -- the site of the monument. The work of disinterring and re-interring the Union dead was begun October 27, 1863, and completed in about five months. Many bodies then in unmarked graves were identified by means of papers, letters, photographs, and marks found on their clothing.


The Soldiers’ National Cemetery, dedicated Nov. 19, 1863, was set aside to be the final resting place for those who gave their last full measure to preserve the Union. Confederate burials did not receive placement in the national cemetery. There was to be no room for those trying to destroy it.

In less than two months the journey to the final resting place for the Union dead would commence as they were disinterred from their temporary graves to a place more fitting. Not so for the men wearing butternut and gray. They would remain in their scattered, poorly marked graves for nearly nine more years.

Beginning in 1871, the first efforts to have Confederate remains removed to southern cemeteries was initiated by the Wake County Ladies Memorial Association in North Carolina. Similar associations in South Carolina and Georgia followed suit and Dr. Rufus Weaver was contracted to supervise the removal of the Confederate dead. This was a daunting task, given the forlorn condition of battlefield graves and the loss of grave markers, many of which had not been maintained or cared for by the farmers upon whose land the graves were located.

Using a journal of identified Confederate burials compiled by Dr. J.W.C. O’Neal (a Virginia-born physician who resided in Gettysburg), as well as his extensive knowledge of the locations of individual sites and mass graves, Dr. Weaver was successful in returning the remains of 3,320 soldiers, the vast majority of which were sent to Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. Fewer numbers of Confederate remains were delivered to cemeteries in Raleigh, North Carolina, Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, where they were interred in town cemeteries. A few Confederates do remain interred at Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Sources:
Appleton's Cyclopedia and Bates' History of the Battle of Gettysburg
National Park Service
Library of Congress
historynet.com
history.com
[* Sources record differing numbers.]