Mt. Pleasant Cemetery to serve as site of Civil War ceremony
Standing recently amid the numerous headstones dotting the hilly landscape of Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, Malinda Henkel peered down with pride at the one marking the final resting place of her great-great grandfather — Civil War veteran Isaac Newton Walton Metz.
“I'm proud that I came from a long line of patriots, and that they did the right thing and defended this country,” said Henkel, a resident of Mt. Pleasant Township.
A volunteer private in the Union Army's 3rd Regiment, Maryland Infantry, Potomac Home Brigade, Metz was taken prisoner by Confederate troops on June 29, 1862, at Harper's Ferry in Moorefield, Va.
His imprisonment began during the early portion of the conflict, which has long been judged by many historians as the bloodiest and most pivotal in American history.
Following his release in exchange for money from the Union Army on Sept. 15 of that year, Metz re-enlisted for additional service with the regiment in 1864, and he was eventually promoted to the rank of corporal in 1865.
“The work of the members of that regiment involved protecting the railroads, and their ability to do that is a big reason why the Union won the war,” said Rick Meason, president of the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society.
Following the war, Metz died at age 64 on April 15, 1891, leaving behind Susannah (Foust) Metz, his wife of 41 years.
“Our country meant everything to my ancestors, and I'm very proud to that I'm able to represent them,” Henkel said.
Gathering to be held Nov. 8
Metz is one of 130 Civil War veterans from 11 states buried at the local cemetery, Meason said.
Meason is preparing for a ceremony scheduled for Nov. 8 at the cemetery during which the Westmoreland County Historical Society, in conjunction with the local society, will honor Metz and the other veterans of the war who were placed to rest there.
The ceremony is free to attend and will begin at 2 p.m. on the cemetery's Canon Hill section.
Attendees will be given maps — created by Meason — which detail locations of all the Civil War veterans. The county society has financed printing and distribution of the maps.
In addition, members of the local society will be on standby at a number of the graves to offer biographical information on the veterans' lives.
“Charles S. Goodman was the oldest soldier (buried) there,” said Meason, who added that Goodman enlisted on Nov. 14, 1861, at the age of 53.
“He was a private in Co. K, 28th Regiment, PA Volunteer Infantry. He was discharged on Nov. 25, 1862, by surgeon's certificate, which means that he was most likely wounded in battle,” he said.
The youngest to be buried there, according to Meason, was Samuel J. Hertzog.
Born July 21, 1849, Hertzog enlisted on Sept. 15, 1864, and served as a private in Co. K 16th Regiment, PA Cavalry.
“He was barely 15 years old,” Meason said.
Meason also located four members of the U.S. Colored Infantry who are buried in the cemetery.
“These were made mostly of freed slaves who took to the cause for their own freedom,” he said.
There is even one man buried there who served with the Confederacy — Charles F. Schindle, a private in the 3rd Virginia Cavalry, Meason said.
County group comes calling
Earlier this year, Lisa Hays, executive director of the county society, approached Meason about the possibility of hosting a ceremony at the local cemetery in honor of the Civil War veterans buried there so long ago, he said.
“(The county society) started these programs in 2013; the idea came to us from our programming committee,” Hays said.
The county society has held three such ceremonies at area cemeteries prior to the one scheduled in Mt. Pleasant, Hays said, including St. Clair Cemetery in Greensburg, the burial site of Gen. Richard Coulter, during Memorial Day weekend of 2013; Unity Cemetery near Latrobe just prior to Veterans Day 2013; and Union Cemetery in New Alexandria, the burial site of Col. Thomas Foster Gallagher.
Prior to the most recent ceremony, which took place Memorial Day weekend of this year, the county society used donations to purchase Gallagher's military uniform at Skinner Auction House in Marlborough, Mass.
When determining a site leading up to Veterans Day on Nov. 11, Hays said the county society placed a priority on conducting the ceremony in Mt. Pleasant.
Gen. John White Geary, who helped establish the 28th Pennsylvania Regiment during the Civil War, was born in Mt. Pleasant, she said.
In addition, the local cemetery was initially established by veterans of the war to offer a final resting place for those local residents who served, Hays said.
“That's why we wanted to get there as soon as possible,” she said. “There are so many people from Westmoreland County who have distinguished themselves throughout history. Some are recognized and others are not, but for the communities we have today, we feel we owe it to them.”
Meason said he and other members of the local society gladly accepted Hays' request, and work quickly began to document the number of Civil War veterans buried at the local cemetery.
“I have to say (Rick) has been delightful to work with, and he certainly is knowledgeable,” Hays said. “These local historical societies really run with it. I feel like they should get their due. We do give them a bigger audience. We just say ‘Will you do this?' and they do all the work, basically.”
Homespun and contemporary tools drive research
In order to gather the information on the Civil War veterans buried at the cemetery, Meason first turned to borough resident Kathy Pieszak.
Pieszak has spent many years delving into public records and exploring cemeteries both locally and throughout the county to devise note cards with biographical information of those who fought in the conflict.
She lent roughly 90 of the cards to Meason which detailed the lives of those buried locally.
“We went to a lot of cemeteries throughout the area, and catalogued everything we knew about them. There's a lot of cavalry members buried in the Scottdale Cemetery, as well,” Kathy Pieszak said.
Meason said he also made great use of Ancestry.com in his research for the initiative, but Pieszak's help was the most invaluable.
“By going through her note cards, I was able to find (a veteran) I had missed, which was very important to me,” he said.
Hays said she did not know how many Civil War veterans were buried at the local cemetery.
“That is quite a few given the size of the community,” Hays said.
Gettysburg battlefield guide to speak
Kathy Pieszak's husband, Bill, became a licensed battlefield tour guide at Gettysburg in 2002 through the U.S. National Parks Service.
Since then, he has conducted numerous tours of the hallowed battlegrounds there.
During the upcoming event at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, he will offer his knowledge of the war's history as a featured speaker.
“Basically, I'm going to talk about the Civil War veterans, some of the people here from town, and close off with some words from (President Abraham Lincoln),” Bill Pieszak said.
Because the Pennsylvania Infantry had limits for the number of members it would accept to serve in the war, soldiers like Metz had to travel south to serve in other Union Army regiments in order to take part, he said.
The ceremony will also include a review of the life of Gen. Geary; a eulogy by the Rev. Neil Stevens, pastor of New Alliance Hope Church in Scottdale; and a rifle salute to be carried out by the James E. Zundell American Legion Post 446 Honor Guard of Mt. Pleasant, Hays said.
County Commissioner Charles Anderson, a Vietnam War veteran who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, is Henkel's third cousin and Metz' great-great grandson.
He said events, such as the upcoming ceremony, are essential to properly recognizing and placing value upon the sacrifices made by those who have fought to make America what it is.
“It's very important we honor and preserve the history of those great patriots who plowed the way for what we have as a country today,” Anderson said.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.