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Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society makes its mark for Civil War veterans

| Wednesday, March 25, 2015, 4:08 p.m.
A.J. Panian | For Trib Total Media
Rick Meason, executive director of the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society, and his wife, Heidi, are driven to provide identifiable markers for Civil War veterans buried at the cemetery, he said. Photo taken Monday, March 16, 2015
A.J. Panian | For Trib Total Media
The Mt. Pleasant Area Historicial Society is supplying metal grave markers at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery containing the names of Civil War veterans, including U.S. Army Pvt. Allen Ramage, whose gravestones have eroded to illegibility due to time and the elements. Photo taken Monday, March 16, 2015
A.J. Panian | Trib Total Media
Civil War soldiers, such as Allen Ramage, who are buried at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, may have descendants who will respond to the society's efforts to properly identify them and, in turn, apply to the federal goverment to acquire new, permanent headstones for their ancestors, said Rick Meason, the society's executive director. Photo taken Monday, March 16, 2015

Considering the treachery and patriotic sacrifice marking the paths of more than 100 Civil War veterans buried at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, it's essential that each of their names grace their final resting places atop the hilly, pastoral burial ground in the borough, said Rick Meason, executive director of the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society.

“I just feel very passionate about our military, and I think these men ... their service should be remembered,” Meason said. “And I feel it's important for people who are trying to track their ancestry to men like these that they can find them.”

However, weather and the passage of more than a century have virtually erased any trace of the names of several veterans from the government-issued, white marble headstones placed following their interments at the local burial ground, he added.

“They're buried in Section F — the cemetery's free section — and the Grand Army of the Republic took charge of these soldiers' funerals and financed their burials and headstones,” Meason said.

Meason and his wife, Heidi, the society's treasurer, have set out to ensure each of the veterans' grave sites are fitted with weather-resistant, metal markers that list their names and dates of birth and death, which were donated by the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery Association, he said.

“We've found (eight) graves so far that need them ... hopefully there won't be too many more,” Meason said.

Century-old number system aids search

Last year, Meason prepared a map for attendees of a ceremony held in November 2014 to honor Civil War veterans buried at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery to aid them in locating each decedents' grave sites in conjunction with an annual Westmoreland County Historical Society program.

Local society member Jim Lozier supplied Meason with a roster of those veterans contained in 1908 pamphlet compiled by the Robert Warden Post No. 163 of the Department of Pennsylvania's Grand Army of the Republic.

“One of the Civil War veterans in the pamphlet was Henry Lozier, who was my great-grandfather,” Lozier said. “I mentioned to Rick that I had the list of those buried there, and he used that for his research.”

In the process, Meason became confounded by a strange series of numbers which appeared next to each veteran listed on the roster.

“It was frustrating to me, at first, what they meant, but then I made the connection,” he said.

What Meason soon discovered was that each set of digits appeared on the headstones of each veteran on the roster — a supplementary system to identify them as the years wore on, he said.

“The GAR must have foreseen potential problems with these headstones ... every marker has a number, which corresponds back to that roster,” Meason said.

Cemetery official bequeaths markers

Following Meason's discovery, he quickly was able to determine the identities of the soldiers buried at the sites containing illegible headstones.

Soon after, he spotted a collection of the temporary name plates at the cemetery office and asked Tom Milliron, the cemetery association's president, if he could use them to re-establish effective identification for each of them.

“It was a good idea, because otherwise they weren't being used at this time,” Milliron said.

Soldiers came from myriad backgrounds

Many of the soldiers with illegible headstones traveled to the area from other parts of the nation, he said.

“A lot of these guys belonged to regiments that were out of state,” Meason said. “They came from all over, but they ended up in this little town.”

The Measons recently completed the first plate for U.S. Army Pvt. Allen Ramage, who died in 1888 at the age of 45 after serving as a member of Co. C, 14th Pennsylvania Calvary, 159th Regiment.

He enlisted at age 21 on March 9, 1864.

“The 14th was involved in a lot of skirmishes and battles late in the war in Virginia,” said Meason, adding that the cavalry lost a total of 395 members including two officers and 97 enlisted men to instant death or mortal wounds, along with 296 to disease.

“So they didn't have an easy time of it,” he said.

Other soldiers in need of refreshed recognition include:

• U.S. Army Pvt. John Rimmel (1838-1880) of Co. I, West Virginia Calvary, 5th Regiment

• U.S. Army Pvt. George Sullenberger (1832-1887) of Co. B, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, 142nd Regiment

• U.S. Army Cpl. Gabriel Leighty (1832-date of death unknown) of Cos. C and G,, West Virginia Volunteer Infantry, 5th Regiment

• U.S. Army Pvt. Richard Parr (date of birth-death unknown) of Co. F, New York Volunteer Infantry, 104th Regiment

• U.S. Army Pvt. Christopher C. Neff (1839-1889) of Co. F, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, 41st Regiment

• U.S. Navy Seaman John Andrew (1817-1890) who served on the Union vessel “Clara Dolson”

• U.S. Army Pvt. Thomas Williams Jr. (date of birth-death unknown) of Co. F., U.S. Colored Volunteer Infantry, 32nd Regiment.

“It kind of emphasizes the unique history Mt. Pleasant has ... Mt. Pleasant had so many connections,” Meason said. “They always say the United States is a cultural melting pot. Well, Mt. Pleasant was one, as well.”

Couple hopes markers are temporary

For the first marker the Measons completed, the couple disassembled the item, stripped it down to bare metal sprayed-painted it with an aluminum-colored primer and Rustoleum. They also detached and sorted out the letters, cleaned each of them with a mechanized wire brush and applied two coats of black acrylic paint by hand, along with a clear coat of enamel paint to help further protect the items from the weather.

“I would say each marker is going to take two to three hours to do,” Meason said. “We've already started on the others.”

However, the couple hopes the production of the markers is only a temporary solution, he said.

“We want to find descendants of these veterans, and I would like to help anyone who calls get a new stone for their ancestors,” Meason said.

Matt Zamosky, the county's director of veterans affairs, affirmed that those who are direct decedents of such veterans can petition the federal government to provide a new headstone, a flat metal marker, or a bronze medallion to hang on the existing stone.

“If somebody applies, a replacement would be considered, at the very least,” Zamosky said. “They can apply for a replacement if their ancestor's stone is badly damaged, misprinted, illegible or stolen.”

Those who think they might be related to any of the listed veterans are asked to email mpahistory@gmail.com.

A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or apanian@tribweb.com.