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The Unknown Soldier: 1863

The Unknown Soldier: 1863

Circa 1861-1865. "Unknown location. Embalming surgeon at work on soldier's body. From photographs of artillery, place and date unknown." Wet plate glass negative, photographer unknown. Library of Congress. View full size.


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Mansel W. Brown Is my Family also.

Could be my great-great-grandfather

I have a great-great-grandfather who served in the Civil War (and more family as well). His name was Mansel W. Brown; he died in Richmond, Virginia. I had heard he died of measles outbreak. I enjoy any and all pictures of OUR HISTORY.

The Unknown Soldier of Gettysburg

If you're curious about soldiers and their deaths' impact you should read the fascinating multi-part piece Errol Morris is doing on Amos Humiston. His body was found on the Gettysburg battlefield with no ID except for a photo (Ambrotype) of his three children. To date there are three installments. The first of which is at:

The Unknown Soldier

I have to use this photograph for a project that I have to do in History. It is called the Gallery Guide, and I really don't care for this project but I do apperciate the photographs of the Civil War that we have to use. This is one of the better photographs that I am using for the project. I like to wonder who this person is in the photo. I wonder if he had children, or a wife or parents who were worried. The less you know about a photograph makes it all the more intersting.

Photographer Known

This was taken by Mathew Brady. I recently saw it in a book of his photography.

Dr. Richard Burr, Philadelphia

According to this link the embalmer is Dr. Richard Burr of Philadelphia.

A Memory

One of my fondest memories (if fond is appropriate) was, as a teenager, being in the family car of my father's funeral. On the drive to the cemetery we passed by a house where an old man was raking leaves. He heard the hearse approaching and then turned, removed his hat and stood at attention with his hand over his heart until we had passed. A poignant tribute to a fallen fellow citizen, veteran or otherwise.

Final Salute

Thanks for the link to the Rocky Mountain News story. Some read stories and statistics of war and think "That's war." Shorpy's pictures and this story make it very personal.

Tastefully done

A both timely and appropriate photo. The link provided above is especially poignant. I've seen this particular photo in a number of venues. It was handled very tastefully on this site. Such photos educate and enlighten us about a day and age we'll never see.

Dignity of Care

For me, it's the almost tender expression in the surgeon's face as he looks down upon this young man he is laying to rest. His care adds to the dignity of this photo. War is hell, and so long as the photos are for our observation and education, it is a good thing to post them.

They are difficult to look at, but they give us a clear view of what men went through, and men and women are going through now.

Keep them coming Dave, you have an excellent eye for a captured moment in time.

Final Salute

The picture at the following URL was nominated and won its category in 2005 or 2006.

Pause for a moment and witness American's reverence and respect for our fallen (as seen in the photo).

Then read of the pain of a wife coming to claim her loved one.

There is no cover up.

The Lean Years

I imagine a lot of soldiers were on the skinny side by the time the war had been going on a few years.

History is his story

Life isn't always pretty. When I first saw this picture my thoughts went out to the poor solder lying there. I noticed that under his beard was a very handsome face. I wonder if he had a sweetheart, wife, or mother praying for his safety. I also noticed how skinny he was and if perhaps he was in a POW camp where conditions were harsh for everyone. I noticed the primitive embalming methods but wondered if his family found some small comfort in knowing what happened to him and having a body to bury. Many never knew.

Some of the pictures here are very lighthearted, but others like the poor children working in factories always make me sad. No matter the pictures I always think and wonder about the subjects. I like the mix you have here because it is a reflection of what life is really like. Sometimes warm, sometimes funny, sometimes sad.


As a former embalmer, I find the photo interesting. It's difficult to tell if the tube with the valve is entering the chest cavity or if it goes to the tubes that can be seen entering the neck. Modern embalming is done through the carotid artery and jugular vein. I assume that the fluid was poured from the pitcher into a funnel attached to the hose. Later years saw the introduction of the gravity-fed "percolators." Electric pumps are used today. This unfortunate fellow seems to have died from illness. He is very gaunt and I can't see a fatal wound, though there does seem to be a mark of some sort on his abdomen.

Government policy

Interesting how so many are rushing to the defence of posting pictures of embalming or medical autopsies of fallen soldiers and yet in these modern times our government has forbidden any photographs of flag draped coffins of the fallen returning home from Iraq or makes press coverage of military funerals in Arlington cemetery almost impossible.

[That's not quite the situation. The U.S. government never banned photographing coffins, flag-draped or not. What it did was decline to release official photos of same at the request of news organizations, which then filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, which they won. The government is now obliged to release official photographs of coffins returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Details here. Also, this has nothing to do with whether you can take pictures of coffins at Arlington, or news coverage of funerals there, which are covered all the time.- Dave]

War's Windfall

This photo is featured in Drew Gilpin Faust's "This Republic of Suffering" (Knopf, 2008) along with a detailed account of America's "new relationship with death" as the result of the estimated 620,000 solders killed or lost to disease in the Civil War. Faust reports this staggering number is approximately equal to the total American fatalities in the Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and the Korean War combined. Some historians estimate that nearly 50,000 civilians also lost their lives as a result of Civil War military action.

Never before, or since, has America endured so many deaths to a single cause. If a comensurate proportion of deaths hade occurred in World War II, Americans would have lost 6 million soldiers.

Faust's fascinating book recounts the cultural and societal impacts of the Civil War's dead. Emblaming was a new technology in the 1860's and there seems to have been a specualtion market in corpses of the killed during the war - some enterprising embalmers would embalm first, then seek the greiving family to strike a bargain. Prices were scaled according to military rank - presumably because officer's families could pay more.

One Undertaker reported charging five dollars for a private soldier, one hundred dollars for a colonel, and two hundred dollars for the emablming of a brigadier general. According to Faust, he undertaker told a Yankee newspaperman, "There's a lot of them [corpses] now, and I have cut the acquaintance of everything below a major. I might,' he added, 'as a great favor, [embalm] a captain, but he must pay a major's price. I insist upon that. Such windfalls do not come every day. There won't be such killing for a century."

Goober Pea


I'm interested that Dr. Campbell sees "disrespect" and "no dignity in this photo." My response is almost the exact opposite of his. I am reminded of images of Christ entombed, and at the same time, looking at the face of this dead soldier, I feel a connection to a particular person. I am moved by the tenderness of the surgeon's left hand, resting on the soldier's body. The opening of the tent into darkness behind the pair. For me, this is a powerful picture, and one I'm willing to open myself to in a way that I can't or won't to the (also powerful) pictures of the dead on the battlefield.

The last journey home

This photo has considerable historical importance, because for centuries a dear wish of soldiers and their families has been that, if they fall, their bodies be returned home for burial. The Civil War saw great strides both in awareness and in the technology of embalming for this purpose. Thousands of fallen officers and soldiers were buried at home rather than where they fell. The culmination was the long journey home of Abraham Lincoln, whose embalmed body was viewed across the country for 19 days before finally being laid to rest in Springfield.

The deceased in this photo was likely as not an officer, since the military's original commission of professional embalming was intended, at least primarily, for officers.

Civil War Requiem

From a series of photos that appeared here a few months ago.

We need to be reminded

I agree with posting this photo, as well as the battlefield photo of the other day. That one has haunted me since seeing it, thinking of the millions of people who have died in wars since then. Here we have a photo of a dead man, who otherwise would be thinking about his family, dinner, next season's crops. Instead, those who remain behind must do without him.

I do think there are necessary wars, but we must remember what going to war means.

Fits the new tag line

"Always something interesting" ... boy, you said it!

This is a great image for a number of reasons, the grit of our human plight never fails to impress me.

thanks, jonny

I agree with anonymous

War is harsh. Too many of our generation think it's glorified and great. Being raised on video games and movies that don't show actual consequences, it's important to see it.

"It is good that war is so terrible"

That quote was from Robert E. Lee, not Sherman.

Sherman's famous quotes on the war include "I can make Georgia howl" and "war is hell" (which he actually said several years after the war).

Solemn reflection

I believe there is dignity in any photo of any soldier, dead or alive. Most people who visit Shorpy reflect upon photos like this with proper and due respect. Also with an acute awareness of what this young man, and others like him, sacrificed. In other words, most people here know this isn't posted for the shock value. This just isn't that type of site.

Take a good look

This, along with the color picture of the sailor treated for burns received at Pearl Harbor, is part of war. It must be faced squarely. In fact, if we don't look at pictures like these, we are disrepecting the fallen. I think it was Sherman who said, "It is good that war is so terrible, or we should become too fond of it". My vote Dave, is more of these types of images, not less.

Spare me this photo

I can appreciate that this old photo is from the civil war, however, seeing the remains of a young man being embalmed is somewhat macabre and disrespectful to a soldier who bravely served his nation. This is not a battlefield photo. There is no dignity in this photo. You also run photos from the sixties. I don't think you would feature a photo of a young Marine being embalmed in Vietnam.

[No, we wouldn't. But in a hundred years we might. - Dave]

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