Memorial Day Story
The custom of placing flowers on graves is an old one, and it exists in many cultures. In almost every country people have a special day to honor those who gave their lives in battle, and in most places the date has become a day to honor all family members and friends whom they wish to remember.
The GAR was founded on April 6, 1866, at Decatur, Illinois. The organization passed from existence on August 2, 1956, at Duluth Minnesota with the passing of its last survivor, 109 year-old Albert Woolson. Mr. Woolson was the sole officially listed survivor of the more than 2,675,000 members of the Union armed forces. He was also the last survivor of the Grand Army of the Republic. At the time of Mr. Woolson’s death three Confederate soldiers were still living: John Salling, 110, of Slant, Virginia; Walter W. Williams, 114, of Franklin, Texas; and William Lundy, 110 of Laurel Hill, Florida.
long after the establishment of Ponca City, a R. B. Hayes Chapter of
the GAR and the Fairchild Chapter of the Women's Relief Corps was established.
Among the goals of the organizations were rendering aid to surviving
Union Veterans and their families. The local group purchased several
plots from the IOOF Cemetery at Ponca City and placed a memorial to
honor those who served in the Civil War. The site is located about half
way between the main gate of the cemetery and the sexton’s house.
An obelisk is in the center surrounded by the eighteen graves marked
with white marble tombstones provided by the Veterans Administration.
These markers list only the deceased name and the military unit with
which the man served. No birth dates or death dates were given on the
After receiving several inquiries for information about the people buried in the GAR plot, and being frustrated by not being able to provide much information about these veterans, Loyd Bishop, Ponca City Library genealogy specialist, began researching information about them. “Some information I happened upon while looking through microfilms of old Ponca City newspapers researching other events,” Bishop stated, “However, the breakthrough in this research happened when the Pioneer Genealogical Society assisted the Genealogical Society of Utah record Kay County genealogy records on microfilm.”
The local society received permission from M. G. Lessert to extract names and death dates from the records of Gill-Lessert Funeral Home. The records of this funeral home date back to 1895 through its predecessors Gill Mortuary and Hayden Funeral Home. There were other mortuaries, whose records have been lost, that did business in Ponca City over the years, Hayden, Gill, and Gill-Lessert provided services for most of the Civil War Veterans buried in the local cemeteries. When death dates for a couple of the veterans could not be found information was sought from the National Archives in Washington, D. C.
“After tracing information about those interred in the GAR plot,” Bishop said, “I expanded this research to include all Civil War Veterans buried in the IOOF Cemetery and other cemeteries near Ponca City.” Readers may be surprised to find that some of these men were members of military organizations from states not traditionally thought of as “Yankee” states. “Remember, Bishop added, “The Civil War was a war of political ideas. Many Northerners sided with the belief in ‘States Rights’ and many Southerners believed in preserving the Union and in abolishing slavery.”
According to Loyd Bishop, it is probable that there are other veterans of the Civil War, both Union and Confederate buried in Ponca City in graves not marked to indicate the service they gave to their countries. “If readers find their ancestors missing from this list,” Bishop said, “Please contact me at the library so their names and biographical information may be added to the file.” Bishop eventually hopes to expand this research to include all Civil War veterans buried in the Kay County area so all residents of the area are invited to add to this data base. If you can, please provide information about the military unit, birth dates, death dates, and other identifying information. Bishop added, “It would be most helpful if you know the for which side your ancestor fought.” A Union Veteran’s gravestone will have a gently curved top, while a Confederate Soldier’s gravestone will be pointed at a low angle.
So that all veterans can be honored on Memorial Day, families are urged to be certain that all their veterans’ graves are identified. “Not just veterans of the Civil war,” Bishop adds, “But of all who served during wars as well as in peace time service. Marking of all graves is a benefit provided by the Veterans Administration for all deceased veterans of the United States military discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Obtain a VA form 40-1330 and supply the required information and a marker will be provided. Some veterans organizations provide assistance to the families, or you may contact your nearest Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office of Medical Center.
By Loyd Bishop