The 52 Veterans  

Joe Hutchinson, SUVCW Officer and Genealogist

Click on the arrow below to listen to the remarks. Audio courtesy of WCBU-FM 89.9. A transcript is below the photo. All photos courtesy of the City of Peoria.

Thank you, Bob. And thank you all for coming this morning, as we remember the former soldiers buried here with one of these new historical plaques. I also want to express our gratitude for allowing Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War to participate in this project.

Monuments. What is a monument? Webster’s Dictionary defines a monument as anything by which the memory of a person, place, or event is perpetuated. Be it a small tombstone erected to the memory of a loved one in a small rural cemetery, something at a large scale in the public square, or even a mountain on tribal land. A monument, a memorial, is a cause for thought and introspection, leading us to ask the following questions: Who is this? What is it all about? Why should I remember? Sometimes the person is well-known and the cause is obvious and just. Sometimes it is less obvious. Is a monument a memorial; Is a memorial a monument? You decide.

We come here today to commemorate ordinary individuals who did extraordinary things. They left home and family to march to an unknown future filled with deprivation and danger, not knowing if they would ever return again. There are no famous generals, public officials, or captains of industry here, but citizens who answered the call of our country. 52 veterans are known to have been buried at Moffatt Cemetery. 49 are Civil War Union soldiers. The oldest veteran buried here, Labon Booton, served in 1792 Virginia militia in the New River Rangers on the Western Front of our new nation. The provisioner for his unit was the Daniel Boone. Booton’s father and his father-in-law both fought in the American Revolution. Upon coming to Peoria, he probably lived within 300 feet of where we are today, and was buried in the 1850s in the little graveyard on Aquilla Moffatt’s homestead. Daniel Bayless served in the Mounted Battalion of the Ohio Militia in the War of 1812. He died here in 1876 to 1881. And it was buried at Moffatt Cemetery, which by then was a commercial enterprise. Thomas Moffatt, a nephew of Aquilla Moffatt, a soldier serving during the time of the Spanish-American War, died of disease in Virginia, and was returned to Peoria and buried in Moffatt Cemetery. He was later removed to Springdale Cemetery where he rests today.

The majority of the veterans interred here were Civil War veterans from Central Illinois, although a few were originally from other parts who settled here later. They were common folk. They came from farms and small towns. None died in service. Many lived their lives after the war in anonymity, known only to their neighbors and family. Many were buried in what was called Union Cemetery, along Griswold which was later incorporated into Moffatt Cemetery. Their exact burial locations were noted in the 1956 Illinois Veterans Commission Honor Roll.

One soldier of special note was Nathan Ashby, a man of color, who was a private in Company G at the 29th United States Colored Troops during the Civil War. He was born in 1839 in Fulton County and enlisted on September 21, 1864. Private Ashby was present at Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865 when word finally reached them that the war was finally over and the last of the slaves were finally free. This day is commemorated as Juneteenth.

The Grand Army of the Republic – an organization founded in Decatur, Illinois, in 1866, by former Civil War surgeon Dr. Benjamin Stevenson – was begun to make sure that the Civil War veterans had an advocate for them and their families with the government and ensure that their sacrifices were not forgotten. This was the most powerful of all veterans organizations at the time. Their auxiliaries were formed to assist when the last Civil War veteran passed away in 1956. Moffatt Cemetery, although closed almost two decades, was still on people’s minds. And one of the GAR auxiliaries, the Bryner Women’s Relief Corps, had a modest marker placed in 1920 at the edge of the abandoned cemetery, so the veterans would not be forgotten. That marker stood for many decades until it was finally removed to storage, where it was forgotten until rediscovered and placed next to the GAR Hall on Hamilton some 30 years ago.

The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War has a duty as a successor to the GAR to make sure that no Civil War veteran is forgotten. This is why we help sponsor this plaque and flagpole to remember and honor these veterans. We could not have done it ourselves and thank all the other organizations and individuals who donated time and resources to make this happen.

President Abraham Lincoln delivered a few words almost 160 years ago and a little place called Gettysburg. His words are as appropriate today, as when he first spoke them. A few excerpts are noteworthy:

“We have come to dedicate a final resting place for those here who gave there lives that the nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here, have, thus far, so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

These words were never truer.

And I’d like to take a short moment to honor our committee chair that was the spearhead for this event and for these plaques. Bob is a low-key kind of guy, does not want to take the credit. But there is credit that is due because without him deciding to take on this seven-year-long project, we would not be here today. So, I would like to present Mr. Hoffer on behalf of Colonel Bryner Camp Number 67 Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War this certificate of recognition and appreciation.