Found in Archives on Hilldale Cemetery:
CNIDR Isearch-cgi 1.20.06 (File: 219)
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Sunday, May 24, 1998
Proper markers for Civil War vets
Tireless work has upgraded cemetery
By Jonathan D. Silver
Post-Gazette Staff Writer
On the plot map of Union Dale, a North Side cemetery founded 15 years
before the Civil War claimed its first casualty, there is a swath of land
listed simply as GAR. It stands for Grand Army of the Republic, a now-defunct
veterans organization for Union soldiers. Overlooking busy Brighton Road, the
small, sloping area is home to the graves of 260 Civil War veterans.
As the decades passed after the Union men were laid to rest, weather ate
away at the soft, white marble of the gravestones, eroding dates, regiment
listings and even names. Identities decomposed along with bodies. Worse
than just fading from memory, these soldiers sank into anonymity, following
the slow settling of their gravestones into the earth.
Over the years, private groups or individuals replaced three tombstones,
including one for Gottlieb LUTY, the only Medal of Honor winner buried
in the plot. But the rest were left unchanged and untended, without a voice
to protest their fate. They would have remained that way had it not been
for the vision of the late George "Ed" Evans, a veteran of World War II
who lived in Brighton Heights.
Every Memorial Day, Evans would visit the Civil War plot at Union Dale.
In the back of his mind, he would roll around the idea of restoring the
tombstones to their former glory. But his desire remained nothing more
than fancy. Two years ago, that changed. After all, he decided, he was
not getting any younger.
Evans enlisted some old war buddies in his venture. Albert VOELLGER, 74,
of Fineview was Evans' right-hand man. John HORBACK, 77, of Mount Oliver
spent time contacting politicians in Washington, D.C. And Bill REYNOLDS of
Bloomfield, a sprightly 80-year-old who served with the Navy in the
Atlantic during World War II, was drafted as the group's researcher.
Their mission was straightforward, their objective clear. They wanted to
give the dead back their names.
Task fell to Reynolds
Union Dale got its start in 1846. It was established in what was then
Allegheny City, what is now the Perry Hilltop neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
Founded by the First Associate Reformed Church, it was originally known as
Mount Union Cemetery. Nine years later, Hilldale Cemetery opened its gates
across the road to vie for business.
While the Civil War raged from 1861 to 1865, both cemeteries operated
independently. But in 1867, Mount Union bought out its neighbor. The
next year, on Dec. 8, 1868, union soldier Conrad BETZ died. Had his body
been shipped then to Union Dale, he would have been the first soldier
buried in the Civil War plot. But for reasons lost in time, BETZ's
remains did not arrive until 4 years later.
So it was that the earliest burial honor - September 1886 - belongs to
George LINS, a native of Germany who came to live in West Bellevue. He
was 50 at his death.
When EVANS and REYNOLDS began their project, they knew none of this.
Slowly, though, meticulous research yielded information. For starters,
they had access to Union Dale's records, a compendium of burial information
kept in tomes, some with crumbling pages, stored in the cemetery's office.
Under the heavy cover of the Interment Book for the period March 1, 1879
- July 31, 1890 are found the names of LINS and others. They are written on
heavy, lined paper in delicate, precise script that speaks of another time.
On those pages is listed the person's place of origin when known, along
with the last residence of the deceased, the dates of dates of death and
burial, and the cause. Sometimes, in the far right column titled "Remarks,"
the word "GAR" is written, meaning they were members of the Grand Army of
Union Dale's soldiers were born far and wide, in Germany, France and
England, and closer to home in Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
They all survived the war, only to die between 1868 and 1932 from a list
of maladies that read like plagues: consumption, alcoholism, typhoid,
gastritis, meningitis, bronchitis, cirrhosis and "softening of the brain,"
to name a few.
Some fell victims to ignominious or accidental circumstances, such as a
slip into a vat of salt, a tumble from a window, an accident along railroad
tracks, a gunshot wound, drowning, poisoning or chronic diarrhea.
While that information proved interesting, it was not exactly what EVANS
and REYNOLDS were seeking. They needed to know what ranks the soldiers had
attained and to which companies and regiments they had belonged.
While the bulk of the detective work had always fallen to REYNOLDS, the
weight of the entire project dropped onto his shoulders when EVANS died in
March at 86. While in the hospital, Evans exacted what amounted to a
deathbed promise from his friend.
'You can't even read it'
"I'm going to tell you what kind of man Ed EVANS was. He wasn't a big
man, but if he liked you he'd walk right up to your face and tell you so.
But he was a great veterans guy," REYNOLDS recalled. "The last words Ed
ever said to me the last day I saw him alive, he said, "We can't let
There can be no doubt that REYNOLDS was the man for the job. He is a
walking, breathing monument to fallen American warriors. Lanky and
bespectacled, he wears a wristwatch with a Veterans of Foreign Wars
insignia. His license plate also bears a VFW symbol. In the trunk of his
car he hauls around American flags and dozens of military pins stuck on
caps he dons for meetings of the VFW and other military orders.
For the past eight years or so, REYNOLDS has been tromping around to
Civil War burial sites to research the dead. For the last five years,
he has tried to track down the burial place of Samuel JOHNSON, a Civil
War Medal of Honor winner from Fayette County.
REYNOLDS' ancestors fought on both sides. His Union relative is in
Allegheny Cemetery, his Confederate kin, near Richmond, Va.
REYNOLDS boasts a letter from Richard ORR, a Pittsburgher who also
happens to be the commander-in-chief of the Sons of Union Veterans of
the Civil War. The letter is addressed to "whom it may concern," and
requests cooperation for "Brother William REYNOLDS" as he hunts down
information on Union burial locations
One time, REYNOLDS saw someone hawking flag markers that are placed in
front of veterans' graves. Thinking they were stolen, that did not sit
well with him.
"I saw him at a flea market selling those markers," REYNOLDS recalled.
"I said, 'What are you doing?' He said, 'It's none of your damn business.'
I made it my damn business."
In the antiquity of Union Dale, REYNOLDS is in his element. On a recent
day, he toured the grounds, stepping over faded gravestones.
"This man's name was DIAMOND. This is one of the original markers,"
Reynolds said, pointing to an off-white stone shaped like a long, thin
tablet with a rounded top. "See how eroded it is? You can't even read it."
The Civil War dead are buried on a gentle incline under the shady
embrace of an oak tree. Roots at the base of the tree have grown halfway
over a lowstone marker engraved with the words "2nd Ward."
A stone step leading to the graves is inscribed with "Soldiers' Lot." In
the middle of the burial ground juts a tall marker that reads: "To Our
Comrades, 1861-1865, By Posts 88, 128, 162, G.A.R., Appomattox."
Surrounding the marker are eight rows of graves running from a paved road
on one side to the cemetery's property line, an iron fence that parallels
In 1903, some of that patch of land, or perhaps all - it's hard to tell
- was donated by Union Dale's trustees to Posts 88, 128 and 162 of the
Allegheny County Grand Army Association.
'A last resting place'
Although the record is incomplete as to why this was done, some of the
reason can be gleaned from a note written on the association's letterhead to
William THOMPSON, then the cemetery's secretary and treasurer. It is signed by
Campbell STANTON, chairman of the G.A.R. posts' Joint Committee on Soldier's
Lot and Tombstone, and his officers.
"Give the nation's defenders that are now or at indigent a last resting
place," beseeched the letter, "and keep it uniform and nice, free of cash,
as the have done their sacrificial work and now let the cemetery do theirs."
As if in the spirit of that letter, REYNOLDS did his own sacrificial
work, much of it plain old elbow grease. Reaching into the trunk of his
car, he opened a small plastic tub and fished out a piece of yellow chalk.
Bending down, REYNOLDS ran the chalk over DIAMOND's gravestone like a
child doing a rubbing of a coin with a pencil. As REYNOLDS rubbed, the chalk
dust stuck to the inscription. Letters magically appeared:
"A.F. Diamond, Co. E., 21st PA Cav."
That is how REYNOLDS spent the better part of a year, running chalk over
the gravestones of 260 long dead men. He figures that in his time, he must
have rubbed a thousand or more headstones.
Sometimes, the information on the stones was complete, sometimes it
lacked crucial information such as a birth and death date, as in the case of
DIAMOND. Sometimes the chalk was not enough to coax legible words from the
Even with complete information, REYNOLDS needed to verify what he had
before a request was submitted to the government for a new headstone. He
and his companions would compose letters to anyone who might have access to
Civil War records, conduct research in local libraries and consult his own
collection. "I got cemetery books that would fill a wall," he said.
Since the project began, REYNOLDS has been able to dredge up information
about all the soldiers except one, the occupant of grave 91, John SLAVICK,
who died in 1899.
New headstones ready
The gravestones of Union Dale's Civil War veterans are not alone in
their disintegration. A 1989 New York Times story chronicled how acid
rain had deteriorated the historic stone and metal monuments and markers
dotting Gettysburg National Military Park.
The government has an obligation to provide for headstones and markers
for U.S. veterans anywhere in the world. Requests for new headstones and
markers are supposed to peak in 2008, when 620,000 veterans are expected
Last year, the National Cemetery System, a branch of the U.S. Department
of Veterans Affairs, replaced 13,600 headstones and markers damaged by
weather or vandalism. This year's estimate is 13,280. That includes 260
for Union Dale.
Most of those have already been manufactured and shipped. A batch of
them, made from granite, more erosion resistant than marble, has been
stacked near the plot, sheathed in cardboard and covered by a tarpaulin.
The old headstones have been removed, trenches have been dug, and a
concrete foundation has been poured. Union Dale plans to cover the difference
between the project's cost - estimated at around $13,000 - and what REYNOLDS
and his helpers raise. Cemetery suppliers have donated concrete, cement and
sand. All that remains is to place the new stones in their spots, where they
will be flush with the earth. If all goes well, there will be a dedication on
June 14 - Flag Day - complete with Civil War re-enactors.
"It's very patriotic, something that should be done," said Ed EVANS' son
David, a Vietnam veteran. "Something that should have been done a long time
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