Sunday, November 30, 2014

Traditions Shattered by the Civil War’s Carnage

During the early years of the 19th century, death normally occurred within the privacy of the home where family gathered to comfort the dying and await their last words. Amid prayers and rituals, family and friends reverently carried the loved one to the cemetery for burial in a consecrated space, most often beside other family members. Religious rituals carried out at the gravesite brought reassurance of spiritual continuity and dignified the meaning of life itself.

Shiloh, the bloodiest battle in American history until that time, shattered those fundamental beliefs and traditions. Families, who waited anxiously at home to learn the fate of their loved ones, were shocked when news came that there were more than 23,000 casualties!

Emanuel Fink
Courtesy of Ron Claypool

And so it was for Jane Ames Fink, the wife of Emanuel, who had enlisted at Elmore in the 72nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry. The son of a Dunkard minister, Emanuel had married Jane ten years earlier. Although she had four small children, Jane managed to travel the 300 miles to Louisville, Kentucky, where she learned that her wounded Emanuel had been taken. 

Battle of Shiloh

Louisville, Kentucky was a staging area for Union military operations. Its steamboats plied the waters of the Ohio River, carrying men and materiel to southern battlefields. When Ohioans learned of the masses of wounded and dead at Shiloh, soldiers’ relief societies filled those same steamboats with tents, clothing, bandages, medicine, and food. On their arrival at Shiloh, supplies were distributed and the boats were re-loaded with thousands of the most severely wounded. Many of Ohio’s wounded were taken up river to Cincinnati; Louisville, Kentucky; and New Albany and Evansville, Indiana.
According to Jane’s obituary, written many years later, she expected to care for Emanuel until she could bring him home. But it was not to be. When she arrived, she found that Emanuel had died and was already buried.  The Civil War’s scale and duration, the size of its battles, and the number of casualties were unprecedented and unexpected. Both North and South described it as a “harvest of death.”
Jane Ames Fink
Courtesy of Ron Claypool

If it could be imagined, Jane and her children were more fortunate than most. They knew what had happened to Emanuel. There were tens of thousands of families who never learned the fates of their loved ones. At least half of the Civil War dead were never identified.

Like many widows, Jane Fink rejected the idea of leaving her husband in an anonymous grave far from home. But very few had the money or the means to bring their loved ones home for burial. For most of the Civil War generation, those traditional burial customs were gone forever. But somehow Jane had found a way. Emanuel’s remains were transported to Elmore, where he was buried in the “little graveyard near the railroad bridge.”

With four little ones, Jane had no choice but to carry on as best she could. With the pension allotted by the government, she bought a house west of Elmore where she lived until their children were raised. Four years prior to her death in 1900, Jane Fink had Emanuel removed from that “little graveyard” to what was then known as the Guss Cemetery where she too was laid to rest.

Fink Monument
Courtesy of Find A Grave

Courtesy of Find A Grave

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