Archaeologists recover remains of soldiers after landslide at Vicksburg National Cemetery
VICKSBURG, Miss. (KNOE) - Archeologists from the Southeast Archeological Center worked to recover the remains of soldiers after a section of the Vicksburg National Cemetery collapsed due to a landslide.
Dawn Lawrence, the principal investigator on the excavation, said excavating the burials of soldiers at a national park isn’t the kind of work archeologists get to do often.
"So normally we would never excavate human remains from a national cemetery or intentionally excavate human remains from any cemetery in a national park. This is obviously a special case because this is essentially a salvage excavation," she said.
Bill Justice, the superintendent of the Vicksburg National Military Park, said they started to notice parts of the cemetery collapsing after heavy rains earlier in the year. Justice said this is partly due to the soil, which doesn’t hold well against rain.
"Once it gets wet, it just collapses," he said.
Lawrence and her team worked to safely remove the remains of the Civil War Union soldiers that were buried in the cemetery so that work could be done to stabilize the area. After three weeks, the team finished recovering the remains on Friday, May 22.
Lawrence said some graves fell intact, while others remained partially in the walls. They sifted through the soil to find the soldier's remains. Lawrence said they're working to ensure that all of the remains of an individual are kept together.
"That way, when they are re-interred, they can be re-interred as a whole individual," she said.
The excavation also gave them a chance to analyze the remains in order to learn more about the kind of lives these soldiers led. For instance, Lawrence said they had already identified an individual who had a broken femur, which she said would have significantly shortened one leg.
"The questions is, how did he serve in the army, in the military with the broken leg that he probably already had. So, these people, as we find, they were young and they were very hearty and they suffered a lot, but they lived through it," she said.
Superintendent Justice said this project is giving the soldiers the honor and respect they deserve.
"We never want to see soldiers' remains, especially soldiers that fought and died for their country, we never want to see them disturbed. But now that they're disturbed, we get to honor them by learning a little bit more about their lives and ultimately re-interring them back into the National Cemetery," he said.
Justice said the National Park Service is working on a plan to stabilize the cemetery.
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