Civil War Grave Discovered at Antietam

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Date: January 6, 2009
Contact: John Howard, 301 432-7848

In early December, Antietam National Battlefield staff and National Park Service archeologists excavated a recently discovered grave that held the remains of a Union soldier. 


During the late part of October, a park visitor dropped off a bag containing some bones at the front desk of the park visitor center. The man did not identify himself, nor did he provide the exact location of his find. He mentioned that he was hiking the north end of the field and took a short cut through a soybean field when he happened upon a freshly dug groundhog hole. The bones were found in the dirt that had been displaced by the groundhog.


Within a few days, National Park Service staff located the site, believed to be the location where the remains had been initially recovered. Other material was collected at this time including a few more bone fragments, leather pieces, and buttons from a Civil War era coat.


Photos of the recovered remains were provided to the National Park Service’s National Capital Region regional archeologist. He confirmed the bones were human and with the other articles found led him to believe the site to possibly be an undiscovered soldier’s battlefield grave.


In early December, battlefield staff and the regional archeologists excavated the site in an attempt to determine the extent of the burial site. Early conclusions for the excavation include:

  • The remains are that of a male age 18-21 years.
  • A US waist belt plate and numerous military style buttons were recovered. The buttons had the word Excelsior indicating the soldier was likely from a New York regiment.


The remains have been sent to the Smithsonian Institute for further analysis. Eventually, the soldier will be reinterred either in the National Cemetery at the Antietam National Battlefield or at a location appropriate to family or military associations if these can be determined.


Considering the number of New York regiments engaged on that part of the field, coupled with the fact that there are over 1,500 unknown burials in the National Cemetery, it is highly unlikely that the identity of this soldier will ever be positively determined.


More information will be released as it becomes available. If you have any further questions, please contact Antietam National Battlefield Superintendent, John Howard, at (301) 432-7648 or by email at



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