Sickness and Death

Triangular Monuments and Tent Graves.

Civil War burials

Triangular Monuments

In the Civil War photograph above, we see the fresh graves in the foreground that have no visible markers and no monuments. We also see the form of triangular mounds. When a grave is dug, the earth is set aside, the coffin (or perhaps a shroud wrapped body) is placed in the grave, then the earth is replaced on top of the coffin. Since the volume of the coffin has displaced some earth that will no longer fit in the grave, the earth is placed above ground level.
Over time, the coffin decomposes, as does the body,1 and with the advent of rain, the earth slowly compacts downward. The triangular mound may totally disappear leaving a shallow depression. However, there was a time when it was believed that mounded earth over the grave would deter water from entering the grave. The placement of two simple slabs over the mound would even further deter the water from seeping through to the coffin.
(We note that the triangular shape also appeared in a few early Virginia coffins.)

Tent Grave, Falling 
Springs Cemetery, Overton County Tennessee
Image courtesy John Mullinix. See more at his Website under
Genealogy Links.

Tent grave monuments may be constructed with two slabs, either of native stone or often of concrete. Some will have headstones, and possibly footstones. Some will have neither. Tent grave monuments may also be constructed of unfinished stone to precisely cut ashlars. Even the size of the stones will vary, and the large ashlars will have a step effect.

More Triangular Monument Images


    1.“An unembalmed adult body buried six-feet deep in ordinary soil without a coffin normally takes ten to twelve years to decompose down to a bony skeleton; a child’s body takes about half that time.”
    Iserson, Kenneth V., M.D. Death to Dust, Galen Press Ltd. 1974, p. 314.

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