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Persistence leads to headstone for Fayette County Civil War vet

| Sunday, May 4, 2014, 11:06 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Nico Borello, 4, a descendant of John William Ward, a Civil War veteran, visits the newly installed headstone for Ward on Saturday, May 3, 2014 at Highland Cemetery in California. Ward previously did not have his own headstone. Jodi Ward Borello has been researching about her family for 10 years and, after learning that her great-great-great grandfather did not have his own headstone, she applied for one through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Ward, who served in the Pennsylvania Cavalry, grew up in Fayette County and later lived in Washington County, where he worked on farms. He lost a toe during the Battle of Gettysburg.

As a child, the only knowledge Jodi Ward Borello had of her great-great-grandfather, John William Ward, came from passed-down family stories and a tintype photo of the Civil War veteran.

“I have always been fascinated with him ever since I was a little girl,” she said.

After years of research, Borello is making sure Ward's service to his country does not go unnoticed.

On Saturday, descendants of Ward gathered at Highland Cemetery in California Borough to view his newly erected headstone. Borello obtained the headstone through the Department of Veterans Affairs after learning that Ward did not have his own grave marker.

“This will be the first year ever on Memorial Day that he will have an American flag next to his headstone,” said Borello, 38, of South Franklin in Washington County.

Borello has researched her family's history for 10 years, relying on books at Citizens Library in Washington, Pa., and the California Area Historical Society, along with, to dig up information.

Borello found out where Ward was buried and learned his family's headstone was inscribed only with the names of his wife and eldest son.

“I just thought that was very sad,” she said. “Here's a man who fought for our country, and he didn't even have his name on his headstone.”

According to Borello's research, Ward was born Sept. 11, 1839 to Thomas and Elizabeth Ward. He grew up in Fayette County, near Marchandsville, which is now Newell.

He joined the military on Sept. 24, 1862, and was “mustered in” as a private on Dec. 5, 1862, Borello said.

He enlisted in the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry in the 163rd Pennsylvania Volunteers Company F, and was paid a bounty of $25. Ward eventually rose to the rank of captain, she said. He fought in battles in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Borello said Ward's first major skirmish was the Battle of Hanover, just a day before the Battle of Gettysburg.

“His company had been at the top of a hill, and they rode down over the hill on their horses,” Borello said. “They pretty much got annihilated.”

In the Gettysburg battle, Ward lost a toe to a gunshot wound, Borello said. The pommel of his saddle also was shot.

Following the war, Ward married Caroline Frances Marchand, with whom he had six children: Norval Ward, Edgar Ward, Samuel Ward, Sarah Wilson, Gertrude Ward and Orrin Ward. He worked on farms across Washington County and lived in Arden and Washington, Borello said.

Ward died on March 15, 1904, of pneumonia, Borello said.

She found that Ward's most distinctive trait was the bravery he brought to the battleground.

“It's amazing how strong people can be,” Borello said. “It makes me proud to be a descendant of his.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs sent Borello a certificate from President Obama, acknowledging her ancestor's service.

“This was a man that sacrificed years of his life and never had a flag on his grave,” she said. “It means a lot to me to be able to do this for him.”

David Ward visited his great-great-great-uncle's headstone on Saturday. Ward, 55, of Sewickley in Allegheny County served in the Navy and is a member of the 9th Pennsylvania Reserve Corps re-enactment group. He said he is pleased that his ancestor's service will be recognized with a new headstone.

“Veterans gave this country its freedom,” he said. “They were willing to sacrifice everything for this country.”

Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or

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