Monday, May 16, 2016

“Don’t Leave Me Here to Bleed to Death!”

 wc butler

The most recent issue of Hallowed Ground, a publication of the Civil War Trust, features an 1863 photograph of several Confederate soldiers laid out in shallow graves—casualties of the fighting at Gettysburg. This picture is like many of the grim photographs of the war dead, but what makes it unusual is that one of the soldiers has been identified. Two crude headboards were placed behind the heads of two of these men, and the writing or carving on one has been deciphered as “WCButler, 3rd S.C.” This young man was William Calvin Butler, a private in the 3rd South Carolina Infantry Regiment who was born in Newberry County in 1839. He was buried at the Rose Farm in Pennsylvania, and his body was later moved to Head Springs Cemetery in Laurens County, S.C. In the town of Newberry, his name is listed as one of the “sacred dead” on the Confederate monument there.

When I came across this photograph, I was reading the History of Kershaw’s Brigade by D. Augustus Dickert. Published in 1899, it contains moving anecdotes about a number of South Carolina soldiers who died in various battles. Dickert’s vignettes illustrate the horrors of the so-called Civil War in much the same way that the photograph of Private Butler does, distilling those horrors into one heart-rending image of a young life snuffed out. In a chapter entitled “Pathetic Scenes,” he relates the stories of two comrades who fell at Chickamauga. (One of them was Tilman Nunamker, who died on Sept. 20, 1863, at the age of 25. His grave is at the St. Andrews Lutheran Church Cemetery in Lexington, SC.)

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