Basil Biggs

In the days after the Confederate Army retreated from the North in July 1863, civilians labored to bury the thousands of soldiers lying dead in towns and hillsides across south-central Pennsylvania. It was an enormous task, and most of the bodies ended up in shallow mass graves. Soon enough, though, the challenge of proper burial dovetailed with the Union's desire to honor the fallen of this long-awaited victory.

A Gettysburg attorney, David Wills, purchased 17 acres of the battlefield for a Union cemetery. To disinter the more than 3,500 fallen Union soldiers buried elsewhere, the government contracted with local farmer F.W. Biesecker who employed Samuel Weaver as superintendent of burials. They hired a number of African-American laborers including Basil Biggs, reportedly an agent on the Underground Railroad who lived near Gettysburg, to remove bodies from both makeshift and established cemeteries around the region- including a small number in Hanover- and transport them to Gettysburg. Biggs was reportedly paid $1.25 for each body he buried. And with well over 3,000 bodies buried, Mr. Biggs earned a considerable amount of money for the times he lived in. He even started an organization, The Sons of Good Will, to purchase land for Black cemeteries.