ALPENA -Today, as communities across the region honor the military service of veterans, the decades-long unmarked graves of three Civil War soldiers in Alpena County are finally getting their due.
New headstones recognizing the burial sites of veterans Edwin R. Wyman (1847-1924), Augustus Johnrowe (1844-1927) and William H. Egle (1843-1918) are now in place. Each gravesite also features a new flag holder that represents the Grand Army of the Republic, the fraternal organization for Civil War veterans.
Marcia Simmons of Harrisville, a driving force behind the effort to gain recognition for the three veterans, said the process took some time. Application was first made in 2012 and was a combined effort of each soldier's family, cemetery managers, research at the Alpena Library's Special Collections Room and the willingness of A.B. Crow Memorial Co. to serve as the delivery site for the markers.
"My role was to locate the unmarked gravesites and a descendent, to obtain documentation of the soldier's service and to coordinate the other components involved in the application process to the Veterans Association," Simmons said. "The application requires the signature of a family descendent, the cemetery manager, and provision of a place of delivery for the new stone. We were fortunate to submit applications at this time, as a new requirement was recently added making it even more difficult to obtain Civil War headstones."
Research by Simmons determined that Edwin R. Wyman, originally of Kingsbury, Maine, served as a private in the 9th Maine Infantry from September 1864 to July 1865. He moved to Alpena County around 1873 to farm in the Cathro area, held several township offices and eventually moved to Alpena, where he worked as a partner in Wyman & Legatske Barbers. While in Alpena, he also served several years as a ward aldermen, and during his last few years of employment, he worked as a janitor at Baldwin School.
Simmon said Wyman's story presented an interesting example of obstacles that sometimes occur when an application is made to the VA for a new headstone.
"He enlisted with a name different than his own," she said. "His pension records from National Archives noted he used the alias of Joseph McClure. His records include statements given by his childhood friends who told the story of Wyman's interest in hiding from his parents because they did not approve of him enlisting."
While living in Alpena County, she said Wyman used both spellings of his given name, Edward and Edwin, in various vital records.
"In the VA stone application we used the spelling of Edwin as the descendent was familiar with it. However, Wyman's pension record showed the use of Edward instead of Edwin," Simmons said. "Thus the initial application was not approved. Further documentation was found with one important piece discovered by the Special Collections Room staff at the Alpena County Library. The application was then approved and the new stone sent to Evergreen Cemetery."
According to the research by Simmons, William H. Egle served as a private in Co. C, 23 Michigan Infantry from July 1862 to June 1865. He spent his early years in Genesee County, where he worked as a blacksmith.
In 1889, Egle obtained a Homestead Land Grant for 40 acres in Wilson Township and established a farm there with his wife, Agnes. Together they raised their seven children.
Under the Homestead Act, Civil War veterans could obtain up to 160 acres of land for the price of the application fee. The five-year requirement to live on and improve the land was reduced by the amount of time a Civil War veteran had spent in service.
Egle's burial plot is in Wilson Cemetery.
Augustus Johnrowe, a private in the 1st Michigan Engineers and Mechanics, was promoted to the rank of artificer (mechanic) and served from December 1863 to September 1865. He was born in France, but moved to the Detroit area as a young child and lived on the family farm near Detroit.
Simmons was able to determine that Johnrowe came to Alpena at the close of the Civil War and worked in the lumber business for 13 years before starting a grocery business on Second Street. In 1879, he established a grocery business with R.M. Donnelly to form Johnrowe & Donnelly Grocers. Within a few years ownership changed to Johnrowe & Grant, Groceries & Provisions.
Simmons said Johnrowe also presented an interesting hitch in the gravestone application process.
"Several references were found regarding his service in the first Michigan Engineers and Mechanics regiment, but his name was not on their roster," she said. "Several alternate research ideas were tried, and his name was eventually found on the roster as enlisting as Augustus Jean Rowe. Born in France, he used the French spelling of his middle name of Jean with the English version being John. It appears that over time he was called Jean Rowe, which eventually were merged and written in English as Johnrowe."
Johnrowe is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery.
Simmons' interest in identifying the burial locations of Civil War veterans in Alpena County grew out of her quest many years ago to locate the final resting place of an ancestor. To date, she still has not located that site, but her search has expanded and she has authored a book of her findings entitled, "Civil War Veterans of Alpena County."
"The initial reason has faded into the background with the realization of so many Civil War veterans with unmarked gravesites," she said. "It was their sacrifice for the preservation of the Union that contributed to who we are today. Any military service personnel deserves to at least have their burial site remembered and honored with a grave marker and American flag."
For Egle, Johnrowe and Wyman, this has been 80 to 90 years in the making, but thanks to the determination and research efforts of Simmons, it has finally happened.
She appreciates the help she encountered along the way. The flag holders were provided by a grant from the Northeast Michigan Community Foundation and Northeast Michigan Genealogical Society. Recognition also is deserved for Dan Morrison of Evergreen Cemetery, Mike Wysocki of Holy Cross Cemetery, Jeff Carriveau Wilson Cemetery and Crow Memorial Co. for interest and consideration in applying for the VA headstones.