This Memorial Day will be special for a woman from Township Derry, whose hours of research and diligence digging into family history and dealing with the Veterans Administration paid off this spring when a headstone was been placed on the grave of his Civil War ancestor, more than a century after his death.
“It was a labor of love. It bothered me that he was a Civil War veteran with no headstone. People should have a headstone honoring their service,” said Mary Ann Jones Von Sennet, 74 years, whose work resulted in a tombstone for William J. Burry, his great-great-grandfather.
Until a vertical granite headstone was placed at his grave site at Hillside Cemetery in Derry Township in April, Burry had been buried in an unmarked grave since his death on July 28, 1918. The The Veterans Administration last fall approved payment for the historic style marker. , which features his name, rank and regiment inscribed in an inset coat of arms, with his dates of birth and death listed below the coat of arms. Shaffer Memorial in Loyalhanna laid the stone for free, Von Sennet said.
Von Sennet began her journey to obtain a headstone for Burry following the death of her husband, William “Bill” Von Sennet, in July 2020. He is buried in the same cemetery adjacent to Hillside United Methodist Church, approximately 3 miles north of Derry Borough. A distant relative of Burry’s wife, Catharine Burry, contacted Von Sennet through findagrave.com and requested a photo of Burry’s headstone.
Before he could get a headstone for his great-great-grandfather, however, Von Sennet had to answer what should have been an easy question.
The only indication that a Civil War veteran was interred not far from where Catharine Burry was buried was a small white ceramic marker with “1094” on it and the letters “GAR,” which stands for Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of Union Army veterans who fought against the Confederacy. This stone, with a standard bearer, is more than 20 feet from his wife’s headstone. Like about 20 other similar markers with flag bearers for Civil War veterans buried in this small cemetery, there is no name on them.
The Grand Army of the Republic distributed the white ceramic markers, said Michael Kraus, curator at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum Trust in Oakland.
“Each city had a GAR post. There were about 500 in Pennsylvania,” said Kraus, who noted that the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall was founded by a GAR committee.
While the markers weren’t limited to graves in Westmoreland County, “I mostly find them in cemeteries in western Pennsylvania,” Kraus said.
But it would be difficult to determine who was assigned a specific numbered marker. GAR posts would likely have kept records showing which veteran had been assigned a number, but there was no central place where marker records were kept, Kraus said.
Von Sennet knew from a newspaper obituary that he was buried in the cemetery, but “the church could not prove the location of the grave”.
The cemetery’s burial records are incomplete, said Hillside Cemetery Association trustee Daniel McLean.
Burry’s service in the Civil War, his regiment, his death, and the cemetery where he is buried are recorded on a map maintained by the Westmoreland County Veterans Affairs Bureau.
The county’s Veterans Grave Registry Card is among the veterans’ cards stored in the basement of the courthouse, said Matt Zamosky, director of Veterans Affairs. The map indicates that Burry is buried in section #92 of Hillside Cemetery but does not have the corresponding GAR marker number on it.
This brought Von Sennet back to the incomplete burial records in the cemetery.
“I’m 99.9% sure that’s where he’s buried,” Von Sennet said during a recent visit to the cemetery.
Yet Von Sennet said in a recent email that “my mind is still troubled. Did we actually place the tombstone in the proper burial place? »
Civil War Service
Scrolling through online Civil War records, Von Sennet said she “did tons of research” and learned before going to the veterans office which regiment he joined from his home in Prospect. , in Butler County. Burry’s service with the 134th Regiment was listed in the 1890 census of “Soldiers, Sailors and Marines Surviving”, from the Millwood and Cokeville sections of Derry Township.
Burry was 31 when he volunteered in August 1862 to give President Abraham Lincoln nine months of service in the Union Army. He joined Company G of the 134th Regiment, leaving behind a pregnant wife and three young children.
According to a regimental history discovered by Von Sennet, Company G was transported from a camp at Harrisburg to Washington, D.C., to defend the capital from a feared invasion by Confederate forces in August 1862. The regiment marched from Arlington Heights , Virginia, to Manassas and the Second Battle of Bull Run on August 30, but arrived too late to engage in the fighting.
Troops were sent to Antietam, Maryland, but reached the bloody battlefield on September 18, a day after the fighting had ended. The regiment was engaged in the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, then in the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863.
Burry was a corporal when his enlistment expired on May 26, 1863, just as General Robert E. Lee was preparing to move his large Confederate army to invade Pennsylvania. It would culminate with the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1–3, which became a turning point in the war.
After the war ended, Burry returned to Butler County, then moved with his family to Moon Township in 1880, where he worked as a shoemaker. The 1890 census indicates that he suffered from a “disease of the spine”, for which he would receive $20 a month in 1907. He lived with his family in Texas for four years, returning to Hillside in 1918, where he died at his son’s home, Von Sennet said.
Looking around at the weathered GAR stones scattered throughout the cemetery, Von Sennet said she hopes her successful search for answers at the grave of her Civil War ancestor will inspire others to search for a headstone for a veteran who doesn’t have one.
“They are (GAR markers) all over Westmoreland County. I would like other people to know that… you can get a tombstone (from the VA).
Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, [email protected] or via Twitter .