It’s been 155 years since the Civil War ended.
But for four Washington Civil War veterans — Dr. Alexander Werth, John Motz, Joseph Lay and Helmuth Mayn — their headstones didn’t arrive until Oct. 10, 2020.
The Franklin County Cemetery Society, in conjunction with the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows Lodge 86 in Washington, has been cleaning and repairing cemeteries in the county since 2006. About two years ago, it began getting headstones, according to Marc Houseman, who is director of the Washington Historical Society and Historical Museum and a member of the Odd Fellows and Franklin County Cemetery Society.
“We’ve straightened up a lot of veterans’ headstones, we’ve repaired a lot of veterans’ headstones, but now it’s kind of like, there’s nothing that says, ‘Maybe we can’t get headstones for some of these veterans,’ ” Houseman said.
The group also installed a headstone for a Vietnam veteran and a marker for three unidentified people in the Washington cemetery. In Gerald, a marker was placed in the Lawson Baptist Church Cemetery for a veteran of the Indian Wars. The cemetery, which is now on private property, was originally a graveyard that belonged to a now-defunct rural Franklin County church.
When the cemetery society becomes aware of a veteran’s grave, Julie Stevens, one of the members, contacts the VA Monument program to inquire about a headstone, according to Houseman.
However, the Department of Veterans Affairs has requirements that must be met before it will provide a headstone.
All veterans must have been honorably discharged to qualify. For those who served before 1980, they either had to have died after Nov. 1, 1990, or lie in an unmarked grave, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs website.
Houseman has discovered, at least in the case of the Civil War veterans, there is a service requirement as well.
“Some of the Civil War guys only signed up for like 30 days or 60 days, and they never saw action at all,” Houseman said. “Well, the government, in more recent years, has said they don’t qualify.”
Houseman said a paper trail is crucial in verifying the location and identifying remains, when possible.
There are well-kept records for the Wildey Odd Fellows Cemetery in Washington. However, for the man in Gerald, there was a longhand note that detailed the four remains that they knew of in the Lawson Baptist Cemetery, one of them being Mr. Lawson, according to Houseman.
“That’s how we were able to get a headstone,” Houseman said. “Without paper, we would not have known he was buried there.”
Houseman said some people mistakenly think the county has cemetery records dating back to the beginning of the county. But, the cemetery society has identified about 700 cemeteries in Franklin County, including more than 31 cemeteries specifically in the Washington area.
The cemeteries range in size, number of burials and levels of documentation. Some cemeteries — like the one in Gerald — are simply 20 or so depressed sections of ground, maybe marked by rocks, buried in the woods.
For veterans who served prior to World War I, specifically in the Spanish-American War and the Civil War, the Department of Veterans Affairs offers headstones inscribed in historical styles. Given that Franklin County had residents who fought for both the Union and Confederacy, there are a few ways to differentiate the headstones.
The upright Union stones have a rounded top while the Confederate stones are pointed, according to Ginger Brickey, of St. Louis, a member of the cemetery society. The Union stones also have a badge inscription with raised lettering while the Confederates are marked with the Southern Cross of Honor and the name arched, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs website.
Tombstones are like the spine of a book, according to Houseman. As you walk through a cemetery and look at headstones, maybe something such as a date or an epitaph would make you want to dig deeper and find out about the person.
For example, Helmuth Henry Mayn, who was laid to rest at Wildey Odd Fellows Cemetery following his death in September 1894, received a new headstone on Saturday. The headstone has a stone bearing a Union marking. Mayn belonged to the 17th Missouri Infantry, Company G, according to Houseman.
Organized in St. Louis in August 1861, the regiment fought in a host of battles, including the Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862, which secured Union rule of Missouri for the next two years; the Siege of Vicksburg in 1863, which was led by Gen. Grant and split the Confederate forces in half; and a battle in Atlanta where the Confederates tried to outmaneuver Gen. Sherman, but the Union prevailed, according to the National Parks Service Soldiers and Sailors Database.