Last Salute, Unknown NY Soldier KIA at Antietam comes home


SARATOGA -- The remains of a soldier from New York who died during a Civil War battle in Maryland were returned to his native soil Thursday

Thanks to an archaeologist who helped recover his bones from a forgotten spot at the Antietam National Battlefield, the soldier was buried with a small bag of dirt, a souvenir from his resting place of 147 years.
Karen Orrence, an archaeologist with the National Park Service, spent five days last December with the team that recovered the soldier's remains after a visitor to the battlefield discovered them. Orrence traveled to the Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery to see the soldier reburied.

"It was exciting and it was an honor to be part of this," Orrence said.

Orrence, who oversees more than 2 million artifacts at the park service's Museum Resource Center in Landover, Md., said there was debate between archaeologists over whether the soldier should be buried with the parts of his uniform found with his remains. Usually those artifacts -- a belt buckle, suspender and uniform buttons, a scrap of leather and a bit of cloth -- would be kept at the resource center. But the unknown soldier was buried with the remains of his uniform.

Orrence, who also participated in the excavation of a soldier's buried remains at Gettysburg, noted the soldier was buried next to a limestone outcropping, probably in the hope that his grave wouldn't be disturbed by plows. His burial then, though probably hasty, was not done without care, she said: he was on his back, arms folded across his chest.

Five years after the Sept. 17, 1862 battle, many of the other dead were unearthed and moved to a nearby cemetery, but this one was left behind. Scientists at the Smithsonian Institute determined from the condition of his teeth and his skull structure that he was between 17 and 19 years old. They tried to get a DNA sample but failed, Orrence said.

Although the soldier's identity will never be known, scientists are not done studying him. They will do an isotope test of a small bone sample to learn more about his diet, Orrence said. It is rare to find a soldier's remains at Antietam, but not shocking, Orrence said. There are 60 to 70 New York soldiers still listed as missing among the 22,720 who were killed, wounded or unaccounted for after the battle.

Several hundred people attended the soldier's funeral. Nearly 8,000 veterans and their spouses are buried at the Saratoga cemetery, but the soldier buried Thursday was the first Civil War veteran and the only unknown soldier.

Both Civil War re-enactors and military servicemen and women turned out for the funeral, led by the Rev. Eric Olsen.

"We are gathered here for a number of reasons," Olsen said. "Some of us because he was our brother, not born of the same family but of the same commitment the sons of our nation rise to still."

I knew Rev. Olsen when he was Major Olsen in the 108th Infantry good guy for a Skypilot, and I'm glad this man got his burial with honors.

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