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Remains of Civil War soldiers found in pit of severed limbs at Manassas battlefield

In this Feb. 25, 2011 picture, the sun sets over cannons arrayed on the Civil War battlefield at Manassas, Va. The first Battle of Manassas occurred in July 1861. Over the next four years, Americans will mark the 150th anniversary of major events in the Civil War, which ran from 1861 to 1865. (AP Photo/Chris Sullivan)

One hundred fifty-six years after they died, the remains of two Civil War soldiers have been discovered at Manassas National Battlefield Park in Northern Virginia. The site also included 11 partial limbs, amputated by a surgeon, all buried together in a pit.

This rare unearthing of the complete skeletal remains of two Union soldiers happened during some utility work at Manassas National Battlefield Park.

The discovery initially happened in 2014, but it was just announced Wednesday by the National Park Service. The agency said this is the first time a Civil War surgeon's pit has been excavated and studied.

Smithsonian forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley said, “This is a truly unique project. In 40 years, I've never seen anything like this.”

His colleague, Kari Bruwelheide, added, “We've learned a lot, not just about the Civil War, but about these soldiers, where they come from, what types of injuries they sustained and really the trauma that they went through.”

These forensic anthropologists at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum determined the two men – both white – were between 25 and 34 years old.

Found among amputated limbs – one skeleton with a bullet lodged in the upper thigh and the other near three fired lead buckshot – the researchers determined this was Confederate ammunition. They also found Union buttons near the bones which they consider more evidence these were Union soldiers.

Researchers believe a field surgeon determined that both men were too severely injured to survive. They believe both men suffered their fatal injuries during the Union attack at Deep Cut.

Confederates won the fight. It resulted in 2,000 Union casualties.

On Tuesday, the remains were formally transferred to the care of the U.S. Army. Later this year, they will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in coffins made from a downed tree on the battlefield.

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