If the soldier was from the South, he was left in place, and his grave closed up again. “In no instance was a body allowed to be removed which had any portion of the rebel clothing on it,” Weaver reported.
He and his team were searching only for boys in blue — “our fallen heroes” — to be removed to Gettysburg’s new National Cemetery.
There, no Confederate could rest.
In the months and years after the titanic Civil War battle here in July 1863, Weaver was part of a vast and grisly enterprise in which the bodies of thousands of soldiers, first Union and then Confederate, were exhumed and moved.
Union dead went to the new cemetery on Cemetery Hill or to homes in the North. Confederates, eventually, went to homes and cemeteries across the South.
It was a gruesome task. Weaver used the hook to probe into clothing pockets for items that might help with identification, according to a witness.
But it was undertaken with a Victorian sense of care and obligation, as well as a familiarity with death.
“There was not a grave permitted to be opened or a body searched unless I was present,” Weaver, a Gettysburg merchant hired to supervise the exhumations, wrote the year after the battle.
“I was inflexible in enforcing this rule, and . . . can say with the greatest satisfaction to myself and to the friends of the soldiers that I saw every body taken out of its temporary resting place, and all the pockets carefully searched.”
There were thousands of bodies, in all stages of decomposition, from skeletal to well-preserved, depending on where and when they had been buried.
Men had been shot to death, struck by cannon balls, stabbed with bayonets, clubbed with rifle butts and burned.
They were buried in corn fields, in orchards, under apple trees, along roadsides, in woods and beside creeks.
Some had been well buried by comrades.
Most had been buried in hastily dug holes that were easily disturbed by animals, rain or a plough.
Weaver, in a report to cemetery authorities, never mentioned the odor that must have attended his work. But historians have recorded that the smell of the battlefield could be detected from afar. Residents carried around bottles of peppermint oil and pennyroyal to mask the stench.
Weaver and his men, led by a free black subcontractor named Basil Biggs, dug up 3,354 Northern soldiers and moved them to the new cemetery from Oct. 27, 1863, to March 18, 1864, according to Weaver’s official report.
The cemetery authorities paid $1.59 a body, and Washington supplied the pine coffins. A separate contractor reburied the bodies in the new cemetery, three feet down and side by side.