Group working to raise money for monument to black Civil War vets

Officials plan to dedicate it on Sept. 21, which falls within a week of the 150th anniversary of the first mustering-in of black Union soldiers in Maryland

May 19, 2013|By DAVE McMILLION |
  • Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Tom Riford, left, gestures while speaking about the new GAR memorial to be placed at Rose Hill Cemetery this fall to honor black Civil War soldiers. At right is Steve Bockmiller who designed the memorial.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

Soldiers in Hagerstown were among the first black men in Maryland to join the ranks of the Union during the Civil War, and were involved in the siege of Petersburg, Va., during the conflict.

Among the first local blacks who joined the Union were members of Moxley’s Band, a Hagerstown-based black brass band that became known as the 1st Brigade Band, U.S. Colored Troops, according to local historian Steve Bockmiller.

The unit’s work during the war included performances as a way to encourage others to join the Union cause, said Bockmiller, who added the musicians were later sent to the front lines.

Many of the local black Union soldiers were members of Lyon Post No. 31 of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization similar to the American Legion.

A monument in Rose Hill Cemetery along South Potomac Street for a GAR post represents white veterans but a monument was never erected for Lyon Post No. 31.


Bockmiller and the head of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau said they plan to correct that “historical oversight” this year during a planned Civil War 150th-anniversary program.

Bockmiller and the convention and visitors bureau are working to raise $12,000 for the creation of a granite obelisk-like monument that will pay tribute to Lyon Post No. 31.

“African-American history and heritage is significant in Washington County. It should never be forgotten,” said Tom Riford, president and chief executive officer of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The plan is to have the Lyon Post No. 31 monument erected next to the GAR monument for white veterans in Rose Hill Cemetery.

Bockmiller and Riford said they hope to raise the necessary funds for the new monument through the crowd-funding website known as Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing way to raise money because projects are not funded unless all the money is raised. The project funding period for the Lyon Post No. 31 monument has started and closes May 26.

Bockmiller, who has written and co-written several Civil War-related books, and who is also a development review planner and zoning administrator for the City of Hagerstown, said he came up with the design for the proposed Lyon Post No. 31 monument. The GAR monument for white veterans, which pays tribute to Reno Post No. 4, is a stone structure marked by four columns and steps leading to a standing area between the columns.

The monument is in a cemetery steeped in Civil War and local history.

Rose Hill Cemetery originated in 1865. It is the final resting place for governors, senators, members of Congress, judges and mayors, according to the cemetery’s website.

The burial grounds are highlighted by towering trees and in one section are the graves of nearly 3,000 Confederate soldiers who died at the battles of Antietam and South Mountain.

Confederate soldiers who died in the region often were buried where they fell, Bockmiller said. After the battles of Antietam and South Mountain, the decision was made to move the burial places of fallen Confederates to Rose Hill.

The Confederate resting place is identified by an unmarked circular section of grass that is encircled by a chain and stone columns. There is a slight incline toward the center of the spot.

Only 346 remains could be identified, and the names of those soldiers are listed on a plaque that shows the layout of the burial spot.

Not far from the Washington Confederate Cemetery is the grave of Jacob Wheaton, a Washington County man who is believed to be the first black resident in the state to vote following the Civil War, Bockmiller said. Hagerstown’s Wheaton Park is named in honor of him, who also was believed to be the first black court officer in Washington County when he became a bailiff in Washington County Circuit Court, Bockmiller said.

Bockmiller said officials plan to dedicate the monument of Lyon Post No. 31 on Sept. 21, which falls within a week of the 150th anniversary of the first mustering-in of black Union soldiers in Maryland.

At the same time, officials plan to rededicate the GAR Reno Post No. 4 monument, Wheaton’s grave and the Washington Confederate Cemetery, which has not been rededicated since President Eisenhower led a ceremony at the site in 1961.

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