Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Marking the Civil War's end --- and tombstones

If you're interested in the proposed veteran memorial on the old county jail site, the end of the Civil War --- or both --- there will be a brief ceremony commencing at 5 p.m. Thursday at the jail lot on the 150th anniversary of the date Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered some 28,000 troops to U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant in Wilmer McLean's parlor at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. That was April 9, 1865.

Chariton Boy Scouts will plant trees on the lot, vacant since the jail was torn down last year and recently leased by county supervisors to Carl L. Caviness Post No. 102, American Legion, for 99 years. The names of 131 Lucas Countyans (out of approximately 700 who served) who died while in service in that war will be read and I believe Adam Bahr will play "Taps" to conclude the program. All are welcome.


Although it's a minor point when balanced against the huge cost in human life of the Civil War, that awful conflict also is responsible for development of our national cemetery system and the iconic rows of white tombstones in them, as well as military grave markers scattered in private cemeteries across the land.

Any U.S. military veteran who served honorably is entitled at no charge (other than installation) to a headstone or marker. The most traditional upright version of these tombstones still follow a form established after the end of the Civil War and now mark millions of graves in the United States and overseas, where many veterans of earlier wars were buried.

The stones at the top here, photographed during a 2008 visit to the new Iowa Veterans Cemetery near Van Meter, illustrate the current form --- 42 inches long, 13 inches wide and 4 inches thick, made either of marble or granite. That's Interstate 80 rolling off into the distance, by the way.

By now, flat markers in marble, granite or bronze are available, as well as niche markers for cremated remains and, most recently, small bronze medallions that may be attached to privately purchased tombstones.

But the first standardized government-issue markers were produced during 1873 after hundreds of thousands of Civil War burials had been relocated to national cemeteries and it became evident that the arch-topped wood headboards with painted inscriptions, previously in use, neither met the expectations of the American people nor were durable enough to survive more than a few years.

These original markers were only 10 inches wide and designed to stand just a foot above ground level. Inscriptions, in raised lettering within a recessed panel, provided grave number, soldier name, rank and the state from which he served. 

The tombstone at left here marks the grave of Lucas County's Private Charles L. Dooley, Co. C, 13th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, killed in combat at age 19 on April 6, 1862, during the Battle of Shiloh. His grave is located in Shiloh National Cemetery. Charles' father, Jonathan, of the same unit, survived Shiloh but died a few months later of dysentery at a military hospital in Keokuk. He is buried under a similar stone in the Keokuk National Cemetery --- Iowa's only national cemetery.

Although the size of the stone was increased --- first in 1902 and again after World War I --- similar stones with recessed panels and raised lettering were used to mark the previously unmarked graves of all veterans who served from the Revolution through the Spanish American War.

One of the post-1902 stones marks the grave of James W. Drake in Bethel Cemetery.

That's Caleb Proctor's War of 1812 tombstone in the Chariton Cemetery above and Cyril Rose's Spanish American War tombstone, also in Chariton, below.

Inclusion of a religious symbol, at first only the Latin cross or Star of David, became optional for these stones after World War I, too.

In 1906, Congress authorized a slight variant of stones then in use to mark the graves of Confederate soldiers buried in national cemeteries or designated Confederate burial grounds. The tops of these stones were (and still are) slightly pointed rather than arched --- and, no, the point was not put there to ensure than Yankees didn't sit on them, just as a way of differentiating Union from Confederate service. The Confederate Cross of Honor was inscribed on these stones commencing in 1930.

The stone above here marks George W. Alexander's grave in the Chariton Cemetery; and the stone below --- installed within the last few years at the Columbia Cemetery --- marks the grave of Nathan Love, the father of a great-uncle of mine.

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