Skip to main content

The Strangest Casualty of the Civil War

Union troops at the Siege of Petersburg.

By most estimates, between 750,000 to 850,000 soldiers lost their lives during the American Civil War. Most died on the battlefield, some died in hospitals and still others died in prison camps. Some died heroically, others died as cowards. But none of them died quite like Sergeant Major George F. Polley.

According to history books, the Second Battle of Petersburg took place in Virginia between June 15 and June 18 of 1864. George Polley, of the 10th Massachusetts Regiment, would survive the battle, only to die in the most bizarre and morbid fashion two days later.

After the battle, in which the Union suffered a loss of nearly 1,700 men (compared to just 200 for the Confederacy), Sergeant Polley was assigned to a Second Division hospital on June 19, where he was tasked with the job of writing the names of his regiment's dead on wooden headboards. The headboards, inscribed with the names and dates of death of the soldiers, would serve as temporary grave markers until the end of the war. Until that time, the dead of Petersburg would be buried in shallow pits on the field of battle.

When Polley completed the morbid task, he noticed that there was one headboard too many. Many soldiers developed a dark sense of humor during the war, and George Polley was no exception; Polley decided to write his own name onto the leftover headboard, listing his date of demise as the 20th of June. With his term of service having expired and the 10th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment about to be mustered out of service, Polley and his regiment were ordered to return home.

The following morning, Polley bid farewell to his friends in other regiments near the scene of battle, when he was struck directly in the chest by a twenty-pound Parrott shell fired about 4,000 yards away- a distance of more than two miles- from across the Appomattox. Although the Second Battle of Petersburg had officially ended two days earlier, George Polley became its last casualty, albeit with the luxury of having his own ready-made grave marker.

Did Polley have a premonition of his own death? Or did he simply tempt fate with his morbid sense of humor?

An anecdote from a history of the 10th Massachusetts Regiment, published shortly after the war, seems to suggest the latter; on the morning of his death, Polley had used his own headboard as a coffee tray during breakfast.

The Tenth Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, 1861-1864 by Alfred S. Roe
The Highland Weekly News, November 24, 1864

Marlin Bressi is a freelance writer, creator of the Pennsylvania Oddities blog, and author of the book Hairy Men in Caves: True Stories of America's Most Colorful Hermits.

Popular posts from this blog

The Incest Capital of the World?

At the far eastern edge of Kentucky, nestled in Appalachia, resides Letcher County. In spite of its isolation and poverty (approximately 30% of the county's population lives below the poverty line), Letcher County has managed to grow at an impressive rate, from a population of just 9,172 in 1900 to a present-day population of nearly 25,000. However, even if Letcher County tripled or quadrupled its present population, there's still a pretty good chance that virtually all of the county's inhabitants would be related to each other-- thanks to one particularly fertile family whose astounding rate of reproduction can put even the friskiest rabbit to shame.

Around the year 1900, Letcher County was the home of a man by the name of Jason L. Webb, who made national headlines for having the one of the largest families in the world. According to newspaper reports of the era, Jason had 19 children, 175 grandchildren, and 100 great-grandchildren. Perhaps even more impressive was his b…

Black Eyed Children Finally Explained!

Last month, we received an email from a reader in Michigan, in response to our article debunking the "black eyed children" phenomenon, which links these so-called "paranormal" entities to recreational drug use.  The reader, whom we will call Onizuka in order to protect his identity, claims that not only is he familiar with BEKs- but that he was one.  "Onizuka" agreed to speak with JOTB via Yahoo instant messenger.  Ironically, this conversation took place on 4/20, a date which is embraced by those who are part of the drug culture.

JOTB:Thanks for taking the time to speak with us.  In one of your previous emails, you stated that you were a "black eyed kid".  What did you mean by that?

Onizuka:  Last November I was driving late at night at turned on the radio and came across an episode of Coast to Coast AM and the topic of the show was black eyed children.  It convinced me to do some research on the topic, and that's how I found your article.  A…

Jesus Campos Disappears; Las Vegas Mystery Deepens

Yesterday we delved into the mystery surrounding the Las Vegas shooting and the unanswered questions surrounding Mandalay Bay security guard Jesus Campos, such as his peculiar GoFundMe page and the fact that his home is being protected by a private armed security guard. Independent investigative journalists have revealed that the company protecting Campos-- identified as "On Scene Investigation & Security, Inc."-- is a Las Vegas-based company whose business license expired in January of 2017.

Also adding fuel to the conspiracy theories was the report by investigative journalist Laura Loomer claiming that Campos' name has been "scrubbed" from the casino's employee database.

It was also reported earlier this week that gunman Stephen Paddock's Reno home was broken into.

But things have just taken a new bizarre twist. Gateway Pundit just announced that Jesus Campos is missing.

Campos was scheduled to appear on Sean Hannity's show on Fox News but, a…