Their task is to find the graves of every Delaware soldier who served the Union during the Civil War
Delaware was a Civil War oddity. Although slavery was legal and Southern sympathy was strong, particularly in the lower counties, it remained in the Union. About 2,000 Delawareans joined the Confederates and an estimated 12,300 signed up to fight for the Union.
Today, more than 150 years after the war ended, two men are working to find and mark the grave of every Union veteran in Delaware. Wyoming’s Glenn Layton and Middletown resident Dan Cowgill have been searching old records and walking through cemeteries in their quest for the past two years.
Cowgill became interested when he took up his mother’s genealogy project after her death. He found 16 ancestors who fought, taking up arms for both sides.
“That just overwhelmed me and created a passion for learning about the Civil War,” he said.
Working separately on his family history, Layton found several ancestors who served. None had markers on their graves for their military service, he said.
“That opened my eyes to the fact that there must be many more veterans not recognized,” Layton said.
As members of the Col. David L. Stricker Camp 64 Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War the two decided to take up the project together.
“The bottom line is we decided to do this out of respect and duty to honor the Civil War veteran,” Layton said. “Our goal is to place a veteran’s marker on every grave that does not already honor that veteran.”
Research, research, research
Layton and Cowgill found some graves already had been marked, many with medallions showing the soldier had belonged to the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal group of Union veterans and the precursor to the SUVCW. Those were relatively easy.
But not every Union veteran belonged to the GAR, and the task of finding the unknown soldiers got a lot more intense.
They trained about 20 fellow Sons of Union Veterans members, then set to work.
“We were looking for the ones we didn’t know,” Cowgill said. The pair used a number of internet resources, such as findagrave.com, and invested separately in books that document Delaware cemeteries. They searched for men who had been born between 1805 and 1850, the approximate birth years of those who would have served.
The names were cross-referenced with other records to find evidence the men had been in uniform. Again, they found some were easy to confirm, but others were much more difficult. If questions remained about an individual, they went into a separate file.
“We kept those names to go back to someday,” Cowgill said. “After you’ve spent two to three hours researching one name, if you can’t nail it down, you have to move on.” They have to be 100 percent positive the man buried in the cemetery is the same one found in the military records, he said.
“If we can’t confirm it, we don’t mark it because we don’t want to mark it incorrectly,” Cowgill said.
Once a Union veteran’s grave is confirmed, group members mark it with a medallion, a five-pointed star that says, “Veteran 1861-1865.” The medallion is mounted to a stake in the ground next to the tombstone.
“In most cases, we are finding more veterans in a cemetery with no marker than do have markers,” Layton said.
The two occasionally found themselves stymied because some of the cemeteries they were looking have been covered over and no longer exist. If Confederate graves are located, that information is turned over to a group representing Confederate descendants.
A good beginning
Cowgill and Layton get permission from cemetery owners before marking the graves, and from any descendants, if they can be found.
“Sometimes finding the families is almost impossible,” Cowgill said. “It can be harder than finding the soldier’s records.”
In some cases, descendants of soldiers have contacted Layton and Cowgill to request a marker.
“We’ve had the pleasure of meeting several descendants and placing the marker at the grave,” Layton said.
They’ll remove a medallion if family members turn up and do not want their ancestor’s grave marked, Cowgill said.
So far, their efforts have been mostly in Kent County.
“Our goal is to complete Kent, and move on to Sussex and then to New Castle County,” Cowgill said. A volunteer has identified some veterans’ graves in the northern part of the state, he added.
Cowgill and Layton estimate the Stricker Camp and volunteers have placed at least 150 markers at a cost of about $15 apiece. They’re able to buy them through a grant from the Delaware Preservation Fund, and have raised some money on their own; Cowgill has sold some Civil War bullets from his personal collection.
Layton estimates that although they’ve made a good beginning, the statewide project will take years to complete.
“The research may be done long before we have the funds to purchase enough markers,” Layton said. “We’ve determined a need to map grave sites within a cemetery so we can locate them more readily when we return. We’re presently looking into using GPS technology for this purpose.”
Anyone wanting to share information or family histories can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional information is at Stricker Camp 64 on Facebook, facebook.com/strickersuvcw and there’s a GoFundMe page at gofundme.com/25a25fgb.