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The Art of Embalming


While working on my new Civil War romance, Katie Rose, I wrote a scene where the heroine, whose brother-in-law has just been killed at Gettysburg, is making arrangements with an embalmer to have his body shipped home to Virginia.

Prior to the American Civil War, funerals were handled by close family members and friends. But the large number of battle casualties and deaths from illness occurring such great distances from home, changed how the removal, preparation and burial of the dead was handled.

Embalming the bodies of the dead became necessary to ensure that the body of a soldier could be returned to his family and laid to rest in the family plot.

“Dr. Thomas Holmes, the father of American embalming, was engaged by the medical department of the Union Army to set up battlefield embalming stations to enable the bodies of Union dead to be returned home. Numerous embalmers were trained in these new techniques, which included preparation of embalming fluids.”

At this period in time, arsenic was used to keep the body sanitary and preserve it until burial.

Embalmers charged families about $7.00 for an enlisted man and $13.00 for an officer. They moved from one battlefield to the next, taking the comforts of home with them.

At the end of the war, embalmers who worked with the military returned to their homes taking their new skills with them.


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