Grave of Civil War veteran marked with tombstone

In one of Riverside Cemetery’s oldest sections, several Marshall County residents worked Friday morning to ensure William O. Woodard’s grave would have a proper marker and his Civil War service would not be forgotten.

Under the shade of the cemetery’s many stately trees, they labored to carefully place Woodard’s new grave marker in the earth alongside those of his family members.

The ground, though, held a surprise.

Cemetery worker Jim Dobbins’s shovel struck a stone as he loosened the dirt around the hole made for the new marker – leading the group to think it was Woodard’s original small gravestone which had worked its way underground after 150 years.

“My heart skipped a beat when he unearthed that stone, and I think it is Woodard’s original gravestone” Jay McCann, a Marshalltown historian and writer said. “I knew in my heart we had the exact spot for his grave.”

He then tried rubbing years of dirt away from the flat stone, hoping to find lettering.

Dobbins and fellow worker Rolly Danner lifted the new stone into the ground while Jody Anderson, of Anderson Funeral Homes, and McCann helped keep it steady.

Danielle Plaehn, the cemetery’s general manager, kept a keen eye on their efforts.

After the cement was poured, Dobbins checked a level again and again, first vertically and then horizontally.

Danner added dirt on top of the cement and then placed an American flag in the earth and the job was done.

Now, Woodard’s final resting place will be visible as long as his white 230-pound granite grave marker remains.

Born in Marshall County, Woodard served in the 5th Iowa Infantry, Company D. At the battle of Iuka (Mississippi) Woodard was badly wounded and lingered in pain several months before he died Jan. 25, 1863.

Anderson, of Conrad, and McCann and Plaehn of Marshalltown, not only played a role at graveside, but behind the scenes as well.

McCann has been engaged in a volunteer quest over several years to make sure all Marshall County residents who served in the Civil War are given a proper grave marker.

He has researched their births and deaths.

He has worked with cemetery administrators throughout central Iowa to locate veterans’ graves.

McCann has then contacted the Veterans Adminstration, who will provide a grave marker free-of-charge.

Plaehn helped McCann by looking through some of the cemetery’s oldest records and deciphering the elegant cursive writing used by cemetery staff years ago to record section and lot numbers.

“Danielle and her staff have been invaluable during this process,” McCann said. “She is a wonderful person and very competent.”

Some of the veterans were buried shortly after the Riverside opened in 1863.

McCann said some veterans were buried in family plots or elsewhere without a marker, because their families could not afford one or the veteran died alone.

“The Veterans Administration did not exist, nor did Social Security or Medicare … so many Civil War veterans were homeless or destitute,” he said. “That is why the Iowa Veterans Home was created, because there were so many homeless veterans in Iowa.”

McCann said there are at least five more veterans buried at Riverside without a marker.

Anderson, a U.S. Army veteran, learned of McCann’s efforts and volunteered to pay stone installation fees for Woodard and five other Civil War veterans buried at Riverside.

“Jody assistance has been critical,” McCann said. “We could not have done this without his help.”

And in turn, Anderson and Plaehn acknowledged McCann’s tireless work over the years.

Not far from Woodard’s grave rests another Civil War veteran without a grave marker.

But Milton L. Parret’s grave will have a marker soon, as Anderson, McCann and Plaehn worked to get one from the Veterans Administration, and it lies nearby, ready to be placed in the earth.