Searching for the Bodies

After the Civil War, thousands of mostly Southern boys remained unburied. Edmund T. Corley, a farmer in East Texas (Shelby County), contributed four of his five of his sons to the cause. Two sons did not return home. He was 51 years old when the Civil War broke out. His means were modest. He owned one slave, a black girl, aged 13 years. One of the four brothers wrote a poem to his mother a few months before he was killed:

O, Mother, twas hate to leave you in age,

When the winds of winter were chilling your veins,

But, my country, it called me – I hasten away,

From my own native state and its fair verdant plan,


But, O, if we meet not this side of the tomb,

God grant that we meet on the radiant shore,

Where the bells of the great city joyously boom,

A welcome for soldiers where warfare is o’er.

Winslow Corley

Winslow Corley was killed a few months later in 1864 at the Battle of Atlanta. After the war ended, at the age of 56, Edmund went in search of his sons’ bodies. He traveled by horse back for several months. All he found was waste and destruction, and the starving, wounded and maimed of the war. Most Southern boys were not buried. Burying bodies after a battle was a relatively new innovation. In the Civil War, only Northern armies took the time to bury bodies of the fallen. And, even that, the Federals did not do well. Countless Southern families did exactly what Edmund did, they searched the battle fields for the remains of their sons, usually in vain.

PBS, “Finding Your Roots: County Roots,” originally aired Feb. 23, 2021

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