My family and I are lucky to have Stephen Potter as our neighbor. Who is Stephen Potter? You may have seen him on the Discovery Channel or History Channel. He is an archaeologist for the National Park Service and has under his purview several local Civil War battlefields. A number of you may be aware of the news item referenced above; I was not until I ran into Steve recently at our local grocery store and he filled me in on this relatively recent discovery. You can find several links to this story by just Googling Union Soldier Discovered Antietam. Perhaps the most complete account can be found at washingtonpost.com here:
Steve is closely involved in this project and is very excited about the research they are doing based on this discovery. The shallow battlefield grave was found when a burrowing groundhog pushed some of the bone and clothing fragments to the surface; these in turn were found in October 2008 by a battlefield visitor who turned them in at the battlefield's visitor's center. Photographs were made of the fragments and then sent to Stephen Potter, who recognized immediately that the remains must have been from a battlefield burial and called in additional experts to pin down more particulars about the soldier's identity.
The Park Service sent a team including Steve to the battlefield to find the site where the bones had been discovered in the hopes of beating relic hunters to the punch. The finds and the location have helped narrow down the probable age and origin of the soldier at the very least: a young Union soldier (no more than 21, and probably younger) from a New York regiment who, despite his youth, had seen some campaign time. His age was gleaned from the state of his teeth, New York as the state affiliation from the jacket and cuff buttons, the fact that the soldier was not a raw recruit from the fact that several NY-specific buttons had been replaced by ordinary buttons, and 24 specific New York regiments among the numerous New York units present at the battle from the location of the remains.
Steve says they hope to do additional examination and tests to determine the origin of the soldier – was he born in this country, or, like many New York recruits, was he Irish or German? This might help to further narrow down the group of unaccounted-for soldiers from these regiments. When the investigation is complete, the young soldier will be given a proper burial, most likely at Antietam National Cemetery.