Group to restore graves, memory of Lyonsville’s Civil War vets
Steve Westlake (left) and Dave Bailey stand in Lyonsville Cemetery in Indian Head Park. Westlake and Bailey are members of a group which works to ensure the graves of Civil War vets are marked. | Photos by J.Geil ~ For Sun-Times Media
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Updated: July 3, 2012 10:19AM
Dave Bailey had a mystery on his hands: Where was the body of Civil War veteran James Henry Nash?
The missing veteran was an early resident of the area — and records from the 1920s showed that Nash was buried in Indian Head Park’s Lyonsville Cemetery.
“However ... we went all over the cemetery and couldn’t find his name on any markers and that was sort of driving us crazy,” Bailey said.
Bailey belongs to Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War, which is planning a September ceremony to honor Civil War veterans buried in the cemetery at Joliet and Wolf roads.
The SUVCW is an organization made up of descendants of the Civil War. Its members actively work to preserve the memory of Civil War veterans. One way they do that is by restoring the long dead soldiers’ weather-worn tombstones.
Steve Westlake is also a member of the SUVCW. Both he and Bailey have ancestors who fought in the Civil War.
“The gravestone restoration, that’s one of our big projects,” Westlake said. “There’s so many graves in need of repair or that are missing.”
One day last year, Westlake’s wife asked him if the SUVCW ever planned to honor the Civil War veterans buried in the Lyonsville Cemetery.
“I live in Willow Springs and I go by there all the time,” Westlake said.
He had heard there were some Civil War veterans in the cemetery, but knew no more.
It turns out, there were 15 veterans in the cemetery. Of those, 12 need new gravestones.
According to Westlake, 72 men from the area signed up to fight in the Civil War. Eventually, the area split into La Grange, Western Springs and Indian Head Park.
Upon discovering the men buried in Lyonsville, Westlake and others from the SUVCW held a small commemorative ceremony last year.
“That’s when we decided to have a really nice ceremony,” Westlake said.
The SUVCW ordered new gravestones from the government. Westlake said the government covers the cost of veterans’ replacement grave markers.
“But you have to prove that the guy is really there,” Westlake said.
That is where Bailey came in.
Bailey spent three weeks digging through old files to find information about the Civil War veterans buried in Lyonsville. He spoke to cemetery managers, who had records. He also checked state records.
In 1929, the state compiled a list of all war veterans buried in Illinois cemeteries. Though helpful with research, the database, known as the 1929 Illinois Roll of Honor, also has errors.
“In the case of (Lyonsville) cemetery, the honor roll lists two men as being buried there and in fact they’re not buried there,” Bailey said.
As for that mysterious soldier, John Henry Nash, Bailey believed he was buried in Lyonsville.
Nash’s name was on the Roll of Honor, which suggested he was buried in Lyonsville, but no grave marker could be found. Bailey said he turned to the La Grange Historical Society. There, he was able to find a burial book kept by a former Civil War veterans organization called the Grand Army of the Republic Post 667.
“This Nash actually had a specific grave next to his name,” Bailey said.
He again asked the Lyonsville Cemetery’s management to check their records for Nash.
Turns out, the cemetery had an older set of records dating to about the time Nash would have died. Nash’s wife bought a plot in the cemetery, Bailey learned. “Sure enough, written in on one of the names in that plot is his name,” Bailey said.
The SUVCW has been able to track the background information on all but two soldiers buried in Lyonsville.
“They will probably remain forever a mystery,” Bailey said.
The old tombstones are expected to be replaced in June. At 2 p.m. Sept. 8, a public ceremony is planned to honor the memory of the soldiers buried in Lyonsville. The ceremony will have Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln impersonators, and a cannon salute.
“We’re going to have the American Legion Post 1941 out of La Grange do a rifle salute,” Westlake said.
There will also be a reading of dead soldiers’ names, as well as a little biography of each.
“You find the gentleman’s name, and what unit he was in and then you can tell (more about his biography),” Westlake said. “A lot of times the history is right there.”