News & Opinion | June 20, 2018 11:12 am

Bones Found on Civil War Battlefield Show Soldiers’ Horror Stories

Archaeologists have found a pit where two soldiers and some amputated arms and legs were buried.

civil war
A bullet in a femur, right, was one of the bones from a Civil War era limb pit found on the grounds of the Manassas National Battlefield Park is displayed at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History on Wednesday June 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
The Washington Post/Getty Images

Archaeologists have discovered a “limb pit” where two soldiers and the sawed-off arms and legs of as many as 11 soldiers who died during the Civil War’s Battle of Bull Run were buried. Experts say that the discovery, on the battlefield just north of Manassas, Virginia, is “extraordinary,” according to The Washington Post, because nothing like this has been found before. One of the soldier’s bodies has the bullet that killed him still embedded in the bone.

“As an archaeologist . . . it’s exciting,” said Brandon S. Bies, who brought the bone out of the pit, to The Washington Post. “As a human being, lifting the leg of an American soldier and holding the bone with the bullet that killed him, it’s an emotional experience.”

The two soldiers were placed side by side in the pit, with the severed limbs carefully arranged around them. The hole was about a foot deep and over the years, farm plows had carried off the skull of one man and part of the skull of the other. The identities of the soldiers remains unknown, though scientific tests and circumstantial evidence show that they were probably Northerners. The Second Battle of Bull Run was at that point the largest battle even in the Western Hemisphere, involving almost 125,000 combatants. About 1,700 Union soldiers and 1,200 Confederates were killed, and a combined total of more than 14,000 were wounded, and amputation of a broken arm or leg was a common remedy. Surgeons worked with saws and knives.