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Headstone ceremony honors local Civil War veterns

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Monday, July 16, 2012, 8:20 p.m.

If you happened to climb the dirt path on the Chestnut property along Bunker Hill Road on Sunday, you might have thought for a moment that time travel was possible and that you had somehow found yourself back in the1890s.

You might have seen stoic men in uniform folding a 34-star American flag and heard a haunting melody played by a solitary bagpiper. In the small isolated Dick-Bowser Cemetery somewhere off that beaten track, you might also have seen women in long dresses placing flowers by the newly engraved headstone of a Union soldier.

The brand new headstone bears the name Peter O. Bowser. He was the son of Joseph and Nancy Bowser, born Oct. 23, 1830, and laid to rest May 9, 1896. The original stone was recently replaced by the John T. Crawford Camp 43 in Kittanning. And on Sunday afternoon, Sgt. Bowser was honored during a grave rededication ceremony given by Camp 43, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, along with the Sarah A. Crawford Auxiliary.

Roxanne Chestnut said her husband, Cliff, is a fourth-generation descendant of Sgt. Bowser. During the ceremony, Cliff received the flag from Camp Secretary Jim Johnson. In a strange twist of fate, Johnson happens to be the descendant of Capt. John Jordan, under whose comand Sgt. Bowser served. During the ceremony, attendants listened to the history of Sgt. Bowser, read aloud by a camp representative.

The 6-foot, blue-eyed veteran worked as a farmer before enlisting on Sep. 12, 1861, said Richard Essenwein, the SUVCW Pennsylvania Department Commander. Essenwein said Bowser began his training in Camp Orr, now Wick City and close to where Kittanning High School is today. Bowser served in Company G with the 78th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers Infantry under Capt. John Jordan. On Oct. 14, 1861 the regiment traveled by train to Pittsburgh where they were joined by the 77th and 79th regiments. From there they headed to Louisville, Ky., under the command of Brig. Gen. James Negley. Bowser served for a little more than three years and was honorably discharged Nov. 4, 1864. He married Eliza Dick and the couple had seven children.

Essenwein said Camp 43 applied to the federal government for the funds to replace Sgt. Bowser's headstone. The original had become so worn, the name was no longer legible. The new one, weighing 250 pounds, arrived at the Armstrong County Courthouse before the members of Camp 43 trucked it out to the rural cemetery to cement it in place.

"We've put over 150 headstones in since 1989," said Essenwein.

He said there are a couple more they are looking to replace. But, Essenwein said, there is often the problem of getting to the site.

"Some cemeteries are overgrown and almost lost," he said, adding that it's often the result of funding issues within the townships.

Essenwein said he knows of one man who mows one of those near forgotten cemeteries. The man is in his mid 80s and no one has stepped forward to take his place or share the workload.

"We hate to set headstones if the area gets neglected and overgrown," said Essenwein. "We do this to honor the soldiers and preserve history, and if no one maintains them, they get lost again."

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