Civil War graves reveal brutal toll of war on communities like Monroeville
Louis Chandler knew he’d found the right grave when he saw the letters “VO” on the headstone he’d pried out of the ground.
The letters meant the remains buried there belonged to a soldier who’d served with the Pennsylvania Volunteers — in this case, one Samuel Cashdollar.
“It was two weeks before Memorial Day, so I wanted to get (a marker) up for him.”
That was last year. Chandler was attempting to locate Cashdollar’s grave as part of an effort to map the graves of all 31 Civil War veterans buried in Crossroads Cemetery and register the GPS coordinates to provide a record for other historians.
Farther east, the Westmoreland County Historical Society has undertaken a similar effort to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, which will be in June, according to executive director Lisa Hays.
She said the group has worked with local historical societies and volunteers, taking stock of Civil War veterans buried in a number of cemeteries in Greensburg and surrounding areas.
“Probably right after the Civil War, it was incomprehensible to our citizens that we might lose track of these veterans and their service,” she said.
About 60 men from Patton Township — the precursor to Monroeville and Pitcairn — served in the conflict at a time when there were only about 30 families living there. Every one of those families would have been affected, Chandler said.
“From our perspective, we really don’t understand how big this conflict was, compared to the population.”
Searching in the area of the cemetery occupied by Cashdollar’s relatives, he saw a strip of limestone poking out of the ground, he went to work, prying the stone out with a crowbar and then washing it off.
He placed a medallion in the ground next to the stone that marks a grave as a Civil War veteran’s. The medallion came from the American Legion.
Not far from Cashdollar’s grave is that of Capt. William Haymaker, from whose letters Chandler drew while writing a book published last year.
He said the person who emerges in those letters shows that it wasn’t only the size of the Civil War that distinguishes it from some more modern conflicts.
Chandler served in the Air Force during the Vietnam era, from 1964 to 1968, doing a stint at a listening post on the Black Sea coast in Turkey.
“You know, Vietnam was a weird war. I marched — not in uniform — in anti-war demonstrations when I was in the service,” he said.
“Now, I would have followed orders, but I thought the war was unconscionable.”
He didn’t see any of this ambivalence in Haymaker’s letters. “People like Haymaker, man — he was waving the flag.”
The letters Chandler used in his book came from Haymaker’s great-great-great grandson, Shaun Hess, who copied the text from the original letters on file in the University of Pittsburgh archives.
Hess, 48, lives in Salt Lake City. His ancestor’s letters to his wife Mary tell war stories of losing friends or being shot. But Hess said most of the letters show a deep concern for his family back home.
“Do I see myself in him? Absolutely; those values are values that everyone should have,” Hess said.
Gideon Bradshaw is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-871-2369 or [email protected].