On October 15, 1863, David Wills posted advertisements across Gettysburg for contractors to remove the dead from the battlefield. He asked for a sealed proposal and a price for those interested in two job opportunities. The first was to identify and disinter the Union dead on the battlefield. The second was to work with William Saunders to rebury the remains into the new cemetery.
Saturday, November 14, 2020
Within a week, Wills received 34 bids that ranged from $1.59 to $8.00 a body. On October 22, James S. Townsend, of Rahway New Jersey, was hired to work with Saunders to rebury the dead.
Townsend was instructed to place the coffins three feet deep and to dig a trench above each row for the granite headstones. Each headstone, if possible, listed the name, rank, company, and regiment the soldier fought for in their respective state plot. If not, they were given a headstone with a number in the unknown sections. The identification that Townsend used to mark each headstone was provided by Samuel Weaver’s notes. Townsend personally made sure every grave was buried to the correct depth and accounted for 3,512 Union graves from 1863 to late 1864.
However, the Confederate dead would not be disinterred until the 1870s. Southern aide societies worked with several contractors, including Samuel Weaver’s son, Rufus, to identify Confederate remains and send them south. From 1871 to 1873, Rufus Weaver sent 3,320 remains to southern cemeteries.