Earlier this month we tripped across an unusual Civil War living history program in Adams County, near the National Battlefield. At the Rupp House, the in-town headquarters for the Gettysburg Foundation, there was the usual bustle of military activity, with pitched tents, camp fires, and soldiers milling about.
But there was something different to the weekend routine to which we had become accustomed as it appeared that a military funeral was underway. On closer inspection we found that a re-enactment of a Civil War soldier’s service was underway. Dressed in period clothes and surrounded by the era’s funerary essentials, including a horse-drawn hearse, caskets, embalming equipment and table, Richard Ryder was in the midst of a living history presentation, a civilian impression of the embalming surgeon. On hand were mourning family members, military officers, and those paying respects to the fallen soldier.
Throughout the afternoon Richard talked about the role of the embalmer during the conflict. These civilians traveled with the Army and if someone had made arrangements they would prepare the body for burial and take care of the appropriate arrangements.