Some men never came home from the war, and many were simply listed as “missing.” One such unfortunate soul came to light recently at Antietam, where a hiker in the Cornfield found what he thought were human remains. Most of those who died there (and the Cornfield changed hands numerous times) were hastily buried, then re-interred later.
But some bodies were missed. And this past October, a man walking through the battlefield came upon what he thought were human remains, and he was right. Part of what he found was a human tooth. ‘Actually it was an impacted wisdom tooth was what it was,’ said John Howard, superintendent of the Antietam National Battlefield.
The National Park Service called in a team of archeologists to search the site, and they found more artifacts including the soldier’s belt buckle, and several buttons from his jacket. ‘Each one was spaced exactly the same distance apart so you know that when they laid him to rest his coat was buttoned and it laid directly down his chest,’ Howard said.
The buttons also revealed the man was a Union soldier from New York State. Scientists at the Smithsonian studied the tooth, and determined that he was between 18 and 21 years old, but it’s unlikely that they’ll ever know exactly who he was. ‘For example if there was only one New York Soldier left unknown, well then it would work but there are more than that,’ Howard said. ‘There’s probably close to 60 or 70 that we know of just from very fast research.’
Battlefields still hold their secrets. This soldier was buried near a limestone outcropping, which would explain why his remains were not turned up earlier. According to the AP account:
And he apparently was no fresh recruit. Five iron buttons found along with textile fragments included some from a coat issued in New York and others bearing the “Excelsior” slogan of federal uniforms, an indication that he had served long enough to replace the lost originals.
The soldier could have served in any of 24 New York regiments that fought in the field where fierce small-arms and artillery fire obliterated cornstalks and men alike.
Via Jules Crittenden, who has much more on the battle.