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Civil War re-enactor on mission to restore Chartiers Cemetery headstones

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Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

Martin Neaman walks through the now-straight rows of aged headstones, pointing them out by name — even those too worn down to read.

He knows when they died and the stories that brought them there. And he should — he's spent a lot of time with them over the past two years.

Neaman, a member of the 9th Pennsylvania Reserves, a Civil War re-enactment unit in Pittsburgh, led the charge to restore more than 120 Civil War-era headstones in Chartiers Cemetery off Noblestown Road.

It's a matter of honoring and remembering those who fought in a war that no longer has living veterans.

“The Civil War affected so many people,” Neaman said. “It touched every community.”

Neaman came upon the dilapidated Civil War stones in 2010 while looking for a different stone. Nearly all of the 133 Civil War veterans' stones had sunk into the ground. Some were completely underground, he said.

“The condition of the headstones as we found them was a sad sight to see,” he said. Soldiers and Sailors curator Michael Kraus said the problem is a widespread one, especially with older headstones.

“Some cemeteries have dedicated veterans areas, and the older they are, the more problems there are,” he said.

Stones are undermined by drainage and erosion, which can cause them to sink the way those at Chartiers Cemetery had.

“That's 100 years worth of things that can happen with the stone,” Kraus said.

Over two years, Neaman helped collect more than $15,000 to raise and reset the headstones so they not only were above ground but would not sink again. Some stones were broken, and Neaman secured new ones from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to replace them.

But, he said, his work isn't done yet.

The ground under the Civil War veterans' plots is uneven, and Neaman is worried about tree limbs that extend over the Civil War Memorial monument. He said he plans to continue fundraising for soil to even out the land and for services to trim the tree limbs.

“We're never done,” he said. “We'll never be done.”

The first Civil War veteran interred in the cemetery was Benjamin Clark, in 1883. The final Civil War vet was laid to rest there in 1924. The cemetery is home to two Medal of Honor recipients — Sgt. James Carey and Sgt. James Bronson.

Neaman said the fact that Chartiers Cemetery's Civil War graves are integrated makes them all the more special.

“At a time in the late 1800s — it was pretty remarkable,” he said.

Anyone wishing to donate to the cemetery project can send donations to: The 9th PA Reserves, c/o The Andrew Carnegie Free Library, 300 Beechwood Ave., Carnegie, PA 15106.

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5810 or mguza@tribweb.com.

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