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Excavation of the 1814 Battle of Snake Hill Site: A Medical History Perspective

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Journal Article - Open Access

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National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP Washington United States

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When the American military buries its war dead, it does so with all the ceremony, honor, and circumstance that is their due. Revered clergy accompany the flag-draped caskets of veterans to military cemeteries on home soil, hallowed by the remains of fellow fallen soldiers. This is no less true for men who died as a result of battle nearly 180 years ago than it is for those who fight in our own day. Indeed, the return of a dead soldier is an ancient imperative. In Plutarchs Apothegms, the Spartan mother directs her son to Come back either with your shield or upon it. One does not question whether the son returns, only his relation to his shield. Time-honored tradition held that no man would be left on a field, particularly an enemy field. If the urgent press of combat prevented troops from providing a proper burial for their comrades, however, a less formal activity would take place resulting in an immediate and less ceremonious interment than would otherwise be desired. Hope would persist for a fitting reburial. So it was with the remains of twenty-eight American soldiers who died in Canada in the War of 1812. The remains of the men came to the attention of the American military for the second time when they were exposed by construction workers in 1987 along the shores of Lake Erie in the Town of Fort Erie, Ontario, immediately across the Peace Bridge from Buffalo, New York. The men had died as a result of injury or sickness and were buried at a site named for the battle that occurred there.

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