Even in the dead of a February winter Salisbury National Cemetery was strikingly beautiful. Headstones had been realigned using a laser so they were uniform in distance and height, a circular bed of mulch ringed trees, and the carefully manicured grass was still thick and plush from re-sodding that had taken place the previous year.
As an early Veteranís Cemetery, Salisbury was originally devoted to the internment of Union soldiers, most of whom died while being held as prisoners of war in a wooden stockade that was constructed a short distance away. The town of Salisbury asked for neither the prison nor the cemetery but received both due to its location as a railroad terminus and as a place where large numbers of the dead were congregated.
The mental image most people have of Salisbury Prison is fairly benign. That is in large part due to the legacy of a photograph turned lithograph of Union prisoners playing baseball.
While Union prisoners captured early in the war were released on parole from Salisbury after relatively brief stays, the decision by the North later in the war to forgo prisoner exchanges led to predictable overcrowding, food shortages, and horrific conditions that ultimately claimed an extraordinary number of lives and placed Salisburry on nearly equal footing with Andersonville as a death trap for those who entered through its gates in 1864 and 5.
The number of Union prisoners buried at Salisbury, all of whom were interred sans coffins in eighteen 240 foot long trenches, was pure guesswork by the U.S. Government, but originally established at 11,700. Those totals have since been revised downward such that 5,000 is now a more universally accepted number.
Regardless of which of the two numbers is correct, 5,000 or 11,700, what is perhaps most haunting about Salisbury are the very small number of identified dead who lie in marked graves. Without a Dorence Atwater to compile an Andersonville-like "Dead List", most nearly all lie in those trenches, unnamed and unidentified, including two from the 18th Massachusetts, George Bryant of Co. E and Richard Rowe of Co. B.
Of the known, there are but 62.