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Saturday, June 6, 2015

Bivouac of the Dead

Bloody Angle, Spotsylvania Courthouse battlefield

     Soon after the Civil War's fighting came to an end, hundreds of men with the First Veteran Volunteers came to Spotsylvania on a mission quite different from that of the tens of thousands of soldiers, both North and South, who had fought here. These Volunteers were charged with the responsibility of locating the remains of United States soldiers in the Spotsylvania region, and re-interring them in what is now known as the Fredericksburg National Cemetery.
     While going about their grim task near the McCoull house at what history remembers as the Bloody Angle, a sign was crafted from one of the  thousands of headboards that were made by the Volunteers and was affixed to a bullet-scarred tree. Written on it was part of a stanza from a poem written years earlier by Theodore O'Hara to commemorate the dead of the Mexican War:

     On Fame's Eternal Camping Ground
     Their silent tents are spread
     And glory guards, with solemn round
     The bivouac of the dead.

George Washington Estes Row

On August 25, 1866, George Washington Estes Row, a Spotsylvania native who had fought with the 9th and 6th Virginia Cavalries during the Civil War, rode down Brock Road from his house to this place, and stood at the very tree pictured above. He carried with him a small memorandum book which he had captured in 1864 from a trooper of the 5th New York Cavalry. With his pencil, he wrote the words from that head board:

     During a recent visit to Spotsylvania, I met my friend, historian John Cummings, at Bloody Angle. John brought with him a replica he had made of the head board, made of old pine and of the exact dimensions of the one in the picture above. John situated me at the location of where that tree once stood 149 years ago, and took a picture of me from the perspective of where my great-grandfather stood when he copied the words of that famous poem.


  1. WOW. I had to look up 'Bivouac' and then, got goosebumps. Such a descriptive poem. Thank you Pat for your very simple words which encourage me to search my family history. I love that my line goes to Spotsylvania and hope to some day visit. Dee