Because of its location, Ohio is rich with history. The wild, untamed land west of the Ohio River known as the Northwest Territory later played notable parts in the War of 1812, the Civil War and World War I and is the birthplace of five American presidents. Homesteaders and settlers were willing to fight for their land and the freedoms which this developing country offered. Walking through this area's cemeteries gives one a sense of this historical significance.
As payment for their service in the Revolutionary War, soldiers were given land parcels in the Northwest Territory and settled in places like Morristown. Older than the state of Ohio, Morristown was founded in 1802, platted by Jonathan Zane and William Chapline and named for innkeeper Duncan Morrison. Morrison owned the original inn on Main St. now known as the Black Horse Inn. Pioneer Cemetery, maintained by volunteers from the Morristown Historical Preservation Society, holds many graves of the original townspeople - Revolutionary War veterans. Records show that at least 16,300 parcels (or warrants) were given out after that war.
Later, this side of the river became a safe haven for escaping slaves, and Ohio became a border state in the Civil War. With the help of (mainly) the Quakers, some slaves remained and built communities while most moved on to places north and west via the Underground Railroad. During the Civil War, Camp Chase in Columbus and the Confederate Stockade on Johnson's Island in Lake Erie became prisoner of war camps. At its peak in 1863, Camp Chase housed 8,000 Confederate prisoners, many wounded and ill, and the cemetery established there holds the remains of more than 2,100 soldiers.
The Belmont Bicentennial Committee and Belmont American Legion will be replacing and installing markers with flags like these, pictured above, on the graves of firefighters, left, and veterans. They will be ordering markers from all wars represented in the Belmont Cemetery. The effort will be funded by proceeds from a baked steak dinner on Sunday, July 15.
The military had already recognized the need for grave markers as pioneers traveled across the new United States, and a standard design for fallen veterans became a wooden board with a rounded top inscribed with the soldier's registration number. However, there was not a system for recording the graves. The impending magnitude of the numbers of Civil War casualties was apparent after the first battle. The War Department issued a General Order for the army to supply the standard wooden markers and journals to keep track of location and identification. At the end of the war, however, with the death toll near 300,000, the government sought a more permanent and, in the long run, less expensive marker to identify and recognize the soldiers.
In Ohio at the end of the war, Gov. Jacob Cox assigned Chaplain D.W. Tolford the project of plotting the locations and identifications of all of Ohio's fallen Civil War veterans. Tolford concentrated on unmarked graves, however, so his list was somewhat incomplete. Ten years later, the project was re-visited when officials were trying to come up with an accurate count of those serving in the Civil War. All Ohio counties were asked to provide identification of all unmarked graves for Civil War veterans in every cemetery.
In 1873, a design known as the "Civil War" marker was adopted for those Union soldiers interred in national cemeteries. This was a slab of marble or stone, slightly rounded, ten inches wide, four inches thick and 12 inches extending above ground. The inscription carved into a sunken shield included the grave number, the soldier's name, rank and state. By 1880, the marker was also available to mark soldiers' graves in private cemeteries and then for veterans of the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, Indian Campaigns and the Spanish-American War.
In 1906, Congress adopted the same size and type of marker without the shield for Confederate soldiers buried in national cemeteries, except the top was pointed rather than rounded. By 1930, the government allowed the markers to be provided for Confederate veterans in private cemeteries and allowed a small Confederate cross to appear above the inscription.
After World War I, a new design called the "General" was adopted for veterans' graves except for those from the Civil and Spanish American Wars. It was made from white American marble, 42 inches long, 13 inches wide and four inches thick with a slightly rounded top. The inscriptions could include the soldier's name, rank, regiment, division, date of death, state and, for the first time, a religious symbol - a Latin cross or Star of David.
In 1936, flat markers that lay flush with the ground were approved for cemeteries with restrictions on headstones. Revisions and updates have been added due to subsequent wars, costs of materials and public sentiment, including nine more religious symbols representing various faiths.
In Ohio in 1936, the W.P.A. began yet another veteran grave registration project dating back to the American Revolution. It was maintained as a card file system until the 1960's when the information was put onto microfilm. In 2002, there were over 100,000 veterans in the Ohio system, with more than 50,000 Civil War and more than 8,200 Revolutionary War veterans included at this time.
Per the 2002 revision on military markers, the Department of Veterans Affairs has the ability to provide one government marker per veteran for graves in all national or private cemeteries even if the grave has a private marker. Now in addition to the VA, private groups like the American Legion provide flags and markers for veteran graves.
In the town of Belmont, the Belmont Bicentennial Committee and the American Legion fundraising for purchasing cast aluminum grave markers with flag holders for veterans of all wars and also for firefighters who have passed and are interred in the Belmont Town Cemetery. Committee member Paula Fankhauser says that soldiers' graves from the Civil War, Spanish-American War, Cuban War and both World Wars have been identified in the cemetery, which was deeded in 1808.
"The old section has at least 52 soldiers," she explained. "Families can get the markers for free from the government, but some of them have been destroyed over the years. We also thought it was important to place markers at firemen's graves because of the service they provide to our community."
A $10 dinner fundraiser will include baked steak, salad, vegetables, dessert and a beverage and can be eaten at the Belmont Gym or packaged for take-out on Sunday, July 15 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. They are also accepting donations and have a goal of $2,500.
For anyone interested in getting a sense of history while strolling through rows of granite and grass, knowing a few abbreviations and symbols might be helpful. Early military markers will have rank and units, for example: CPT, Captain; CPL, Corporal; QM, Quartermaster; 1 LT, First Lieutenant; BUGL, Bugler; AC or USA, Army Corps; CSA, Confederate States of America; CT, Colored Troops; CO, Company; FA, Field Artillery; MC, Medical Corps; VOL or USV, volunteer.
One might also see organizations listed such as GAR (Grand Army of the Republic), SAR (Sons of the American Revolution) and SCV (Sons of Confederate Veterans.) Later stones may include military honors: DFC, Distinguished Flying Cross; ACM, Army Commendation Medal; BS or BSM, Bronze Star Medal; SS or SSM for either Silver Star Medal or Sharp Shooter; OLC, Oak Leaf Cluster.
For more information on the Civil War sesquicentennial, visit www.ohiocivilwar150.org. Many individual groups have grave registration programs and lists that can be accessed through their websites. For more information on the Belmont Cemetery grave marker project, call 740-484-4913.
Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.