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Sheridan Legion Post honors Civil War veterans with grave markers project

Montana Standard - 11/12/2022

Nov. 11—Many Civil War veterans arrived in Montana Territory bearing nothing but trauma. They had survived the nation's deadliest conflict and longed for a fresh start and a shot at striking it rich.

They had traveled 2,000 miles or more from the bloody battlefields at Chickamauga, Bull Run, Shiloh, Chancellorsville and more. The bitter differences between North and South that had sundered the country lingered for a time in some locales in Montana Territory.

But many came focused more on gold than the past and ended up in places like Virginia City and Confederate Gulch.

Ultimately, of course, those who had escaped Minie balls and canister shots and the Civil War's other myriad horrors succumbed to life's destined end.

In the cemetery above Virginia City the rectangular stone grave markers set atop the ground referenced the soldiers' service. At the cemetery in Sheridan, bone-white headstones recorded their names and role in the war.

The Civil War ended nearly 160 years ago.

Time's grindstone, powered by wind and weather, has been steadily erasing the Civil War veterans' names and references to their service.

In addition, in Virginia City, the heaving earth has begun to swallow the grave markers.

Given that everything eventually turns to dust, why not accept the obliteration of the Civil War veterans' names as being as inevitable as death itself?

"Not on our watch."

That's the response of Cliff Morgan, post commander for the American Legion Anderson-Simpson Post 89 in Sheridan and a veteran of the U.S. Navy.

Morgan credited fellow Post 89 member Bob Reimard with being the driving force behind efforts to give the veterans their names back.

Reimard spent some formative years near the Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania. His father became an expert about the battle and Reimard said he inherited a measure of that fascination.

Each Memorial Day, members of American Legion Anderson-Simpson Post 89 place flags on veterans' graves at cemeteries in Sheridan, Virginia City, Nevada City and Laurin, and the Taylor Cemetery in Madison County.

That yearly duty alerted Reimard, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and others to the deteriorating condition of the Civil War veterans' grave markers.

"When I saw those headstones I just didn't feel it was right," he said.

The grave marker project launched in 2019, with different approaches for the graves in Virginia City and Sheridan.

For Sheridan, laser-etched bricks with 26 Civil War veterans' names were stacked and displayed in a memorial wall. Also honored was a veteran of the Spanish-American War.

For Virginia City, where the 18 rectangular stone grave markers rested atop the earth, the markers were lifted up and then placed atop a new concrete base. A laser-etched brick recorded each soldier's name.

In addition, the Post restored two graves in the Nevada City cemetery and two in the Laurin cemetery. Three of the four were veterans of the Spanish-American War in 1898.

All the work was completed and funded by American Legion Anderson-Simpson Post 89. The Post received advance permissions from cemetery commissions and county commissions and more than a few comments of gratitude.

Reimard and his wife, Alice, did hours of research with the goal of accurately identifying the veterans being commemorated.

He and Morgan said they felt no need to parcel out who fought for the Confederacy and who for the Union.

"They are brother veterans," Morgan said.

The idea for the laser etched bricks emerged from a fundraiser Post 89 conducted in 2017 and 2018 to pay for repairs for its circa-1933 log building in Sheridan. Commemorative bricks were sold to honor veterans both living and dead and then encased in stone walls in front of the Legion building.

"People flocked to it," Morgan said. "The community really supports the Legion here."

Part way through completing the Virginia City work, Sheridan Legion Post 89 wrote up a draft press release about the Post's grave marker efforts and the labors of Reimard, Morgan, Dave Dixon, Charlie Rossiter, Paul Marsh, Jim Fordyce and Greg Granken.

In the end, the men decided their efforts were for these brother veterans and no outside recognition was necessary. Recently, a visiting relative spilled the beans, believing the work deserved notice as Veterans Day approached.


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