It was during the Civil War that soldiers first found the need for some kind of identification on their bodies during combat.
According to the National Museum of Naval Aviation:
“In the days of the Civil War, 1861-1865, some soldiers going into combat improvised their own identification, pinning slips of paper with name and home address to the backs of their coats, stenciling identification on their knapsacks or scratching it in the soft lead backing of the Army belt buckle.”
Record keeping was haphazard under wartime conditions and grave locations were often lost. After the conclusion of the Civil War the U.S. Army located and exhumed the remains of 300,000 Union veterans buried in the South, then reinterred these remains in a national cemetery. Nationwide, 54% of the number reinterred were classified as “Unknown”. At Vicksburg National Cemetery 75% of the Civil War dead are listed as unidentified. At Salisbury National Cemetery, North Carolina, 99% of the 12,126 Federal soldiers interred are listed as unidentified.
The first national cemeteries were established in 1862 by an act of Congress to provide a burial place for “soldiers who shall die in the service of the country”. Upright headstones with rounded tops mark the graves of known soldiers. Small, square blocks, incised with a grave number only, designate the unknown veterans. A few graves are marked by other than government issued headstones.
Those who never received silencers may have looked for their own solutions by sticking the tags together with cotton ties, rubber rings from gas-mask tubes, and/or adhesive tape.
The Tomb of the Unknowns Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, USA “HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD.”