Even though Memorial Day has passed, my thoughts return to the Shiffler Cemetery, which is almost within sight of my office window.
Every Memorial Day since 1868 – the year the national holiday was first observed – a ceremony has honored fallen veterans at Shiffler. What concerns me today, however, is the walk in the cemetery that Diane and I usually do after the official program is over.
Even in 1868, the veterans buried there tested the memory of local residents. The veterans buried there served as early as the War of 1812, including a private, John Hester, who served at Fort Meigs during that conflict.
When I walk through Shiffler Cemetery, I am among family and friends. My grandparents, aunts and uncles from different generations are buried there.
Even in the oldest part of the cemetery, where the graves date from the 1840s, I feel at home. Although the most recent graves date from almost a century before I was born, I have read their stories and feel a strong connection. They are my neighbours, my family and my friends, just from an earlier time.
Our historic “new” home is just south of Shiffler. Among the graves I sometimes gaze at are those of Margaret and Henry Miller, who owned our home during the Civil War. They died within weeks of each other in September 1863, apparently of illness. Both were in their fifties.
Four of Margaret and Henry’s sons served in the Civil War, and two of those sons died before the end of 1865. Jacob Miller was only 18 when he joined the Union Army shortly after the death of his parents. The young man was recruited by a neighbor, Jacob Kelly, to serve in Company H of the 38th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.
Jacob was part of a group of young recruits that reached Chattanooga, Tennessee, on November 25, 1863, just as the 38th Ohio was ready to join the famous Missionary Ridge charge. This attack was successful, and Jacob survived his first battle, but died of disease the following March in northern Georgia. His body remains in Georgia, and sadly no stone in Shiffler honors his sacrifice.
However, the body of Jacob’s brother Henry lies near their parents. Henry, a member of the 111th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, survived the war but died soon after, in September 1965. Unfortunately, I read a newspaper article that after surviving his Civil War service, he was killed in a tavern altercation in Cleveland, ironically on his way home to return to civilian life.
Jacob Kelly, the neighbor who recruited Jacob Miller, survived the war. But for the rest of his life, Kelly faced a painful reminder of the conflict – a broken jaw suffered during the Atlanta campaign in 1864. Despite the horrific aftermath of that bullet, he lived until 1898 and is buried near the Miller plot.
Not far from Kelly’s grave is a marker for Ezekiel DeGroff, another 38th Ohio soldier. While Ezekiel was seriously injured in Georgia, Kelly had placed her own backpack under Ezekiel’s head to comfort him. Shortly after, as DeGroff lay dying, someone stole Kelly’s backpack from under her head.
Nearby, a large white stone pays homage to two brothers, Peter and James Dellenbaugh. The young men died about two years apart, James in January 1862, Peter in December 1863. Although mostly forgotten now, James was laid to rest among a large crowd of mourners when his body was was brought back from Kentucky, where the young soldier of the 38th Ohio died of illness.
Looking at James Dellenbaugh’s name, I reflect on a message inscribed on his stone, a reminder to all of us about the cycle of life:
As you are now, so I have been.
As I am now, you will be.
Prepare for death and follow me.
Go home my friends, and dry your tears.
I will be here until Christ appears.
I guess it’s normal that I’m so comfortable in Shiffler. Although I am in no rush to move, I plan to eventually be there permanently, joining these former family members and friends in my final home.
Don Allison is a retired author, historian and editor of The Bryan Times. He can be reached at www.fadedbanner.com.