Preserving a Nation (History of U.S. Embalming)

Obit Magazine
January 17, 2011

On May 24, 1861, Union Army Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth was shot and killed in Alexandria, Virginia, while trying to remove a Confederate flag from the roof of the Marshall House Hotel.  The unfortunate Ellsworth was also a lawyer who had a special relationship with the president of the United States.  He had clerked in Abraham Lincoln’s law office in Springfield, Illinois.  When he heard of the death, a distraught Lincoln asked the colonel’s regiment to bring his friend’s body to the White House for the funeral service.  By being so honored, the colonel was about to become part of a process that would alter the course of American mortuary history.

At the time, embalming was a relative rarity in the United States as well as a work much in progress…. All told, an estimated 40,000 of the approximately 650,000 soldiers who died in the conflict were embalmed.

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