It was a cold rainy morning in late November when a group of volunteers from Panther Valley, led by Lansford resident and Civil War researcher Joe Nihen and GAR Secretary Carol Miller, gathered at the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery to honor four Civil War veterans.
They remembered the soldiers by replacing their barely legible stones with new ones courtesy of the United States government.
"The United States government offers a program to replace the worn stones of Civil War veterans with new ones," said Miller. "The only condition is that the old stones must be destroyed."
The new stones made of granite are much easier to read than their century-old counterparts which were made of marble. Miller and Nihen used cemetery records and rubbings to identify the four veterans whose stones were being replaced that rainy morning.
Miller said they were the first of 10 stones that are scheduled to be replaced with newer ones in the cemetery.
While Miller has been coordinating the deliveries and installations of the stones, Nihen is the researcher who verified and identified the soldiers to qualify them for the replacements.
"I have been researching the 208th Regiment of PA Volunteers as well as the 4th PA Calvary and collecting stories about them," he said.
Nihen volunteered earlier this year to spearhead and manage the project and has spent a number of hours researching the veterans.
Nihen said in order to receive the stones the veterans needed to be identified and verified as Civil War veterans. This required researching their records. The four veterans whose stones were replaced were Samuel Flemming of the 11th PA Infantry, Lewis Schultz of the 176th PA Infantry, Joseph Williams of the 202nd PA Infantry and Joseph Williams of the 15th PA Calvary.
In the case of Williams, there were actually two markers on the grave but only one replacement was provided. Nihen said it was somewhat puzzling but surmises that the veteran may have served twice in the military with each term, qualifying him for a marker.
GAR Board member Craig Walters and his employees coordinated the removal of the old stones and supervised and assisted with the installation and setting of the new ones. Although the weather was quite miserable, the late November day was warm enough to guarantee the ground had not yet frozen.
Workers began by loosening the old stones in the ground and then following the requirements of the program by using a sledge hammer to break the old stones apart to facilitate their removal. Once the crooked and in some cases sunken stones were removed, the volunteers, led by Walters crew, installed and leveled the new stones in the ground.
Other volunteers who assisted that morning include board members Dr. Louis Vermillion and Maxine Vermillion who is also the president of the Summit Hill Historical Society. She along with Miller and other members of the society have spent over a year conducting a thorough census of the cemetery, drawing from records and making a physical inspection of the cemetery.
"We have walked each section of the cemetery recording and verifying information and then have returned a second time to audit the information to ensure the records we have are accurate," said Vermillion.
The inventory project began before the new board of directors assumed control of the cemetery and had access to its records. Having access to the records in recent months has been helpful in creating the actual inventory as well as identifying the veterans.
It took only a few hours to replace the four stones with the new ones.
While the marble stones were at the end of their useful life, the new stones will guarantee these veterans along with the six more scheduled to be replaced in 2010 will be remembered for a long time to come.