Civil War soldiers get grave markers – at last – because of one Boisean’s 9-year campaign
As it does every year, the community will gather at local cemeteries on Monday to remember fallen military men and women.
But this year, the day will be different for one Boise man, Allan McKenney. It will mark the end of a long quest: getting the Veterans Administration to provide headstones for three Civil War soldiers in Boise cemeteries.
Thanks to McKenney, three granite stones sent by the VA now stand at three very old graves.
One, in Pioneer Cemetery on Warm Springs Avenue in Boise, belongs to Pvt. William Mole, who enlisted in the 106th New York Infantry in 1862. He was “mustered out,” or released from service, at the end of the war in 1865. He died in Boise, at his home on Eastman Street, at age 74 in 1904.
The other two are at Fort Boise Military Reserve Cemetery on Mountain Cove Road. One marks the grave of Pvt. John Monroe, who served in the 39th Illinois Infantry and died in Boise in 1907 at age 61. The other marks the grave of James B. Abbott, a sergeant in the 1st Vermont Cavalry. He died in Boise in 1900 at age 56. All three were Union soldiers.
The city of Boise’s ceremony at Military Reserve on Memorial Day will include a dedication for all three.
“They were long overdue in getting their markers,” said McKenney.
‘The Boise Three’
McKenney is a self-taught historian retired from a career in law enforcement and a job with the Idaho Lottery. Working to get the grave markers required long and tedious research, combing through obituaries, newspaper articles, and military and cemetery records to find the names of soldiers who had died. More research was required to figure out where they were buried.
“At first you’re out there in a big puddle of water. You’re floundering around,” said McKenney.
With part of the research done, the project next required work on the ground, walking through cemeteries, matching names with stones or places where stones should be. And after that came paperwork — filling out forms, sending away for documentation of the veterans’ military service and submitting everything to the Veterans Administration.
McKenney’s first success, as chronicled in the Idaho Statesman in 2015, was getting a stone placed at the unmarked grave of Pvt. James Kern at Morris Hill Cemetery in Boise in 2008. Kern, a bugler with the Union Army’s 1st Kentucky Cavalry, spent his last days at the old U.S. Veterans Hospital in Boise that stood where Veterans Park is today.
Over the past two years, McKenney researched and applied for markers for eight more soldiers, a group he called “The Boise Eight.” As it turns out, one of the eight was a veteran of the Spanish American War, not the Civil War. Then the VA made the determination that four of the eight technically had a stone, a shared obelisk at Military Reserve.
“There were red flags, holdups and quite a few hiccups along the way,” said Ken Reeves, division manager at Boise Parks and Recreation, which oversees the city’s cemeteries.
But ultimately, because of McKenney’s advocacy, the VA agreed to supply the markers for Mole, Monroe and Abbott. The stones arrived earlier this spring.
McKenney’s inspiration, he has said all along, is a sense of love, duty and the desire to have the soldiers recognized as individuals. McKenney also wanted to pay tribute to his own forebears who served in the armed forces dating back to the Civil War. McKenney keeps documentation of all the battles they fought and has all of their discharge papers.
A full circle
McKenney never was able to find family members for the three soldiers or anyone who had information about them. He became their sole link to the present day.
“It’s come full circle,” said Reeves. “Allan’s got his passion. “At the end of the day, he succeeded in what he wanted to do.”
The Civil War, Reeves said, was “such a pivotal point in American history. There is more importance in ensuring that these soldiers are being represented appropriately.
“I congratulate Allan for his hard work. And there are a lot of veterans who will be thanking him.”
Historians estimate that about 1,000 Union and Confederate veterans moved west after the war and settled in Idaho. Most were Union fighters, but McKenney has cataloged between 30 and 40 Confederate graves across the state.
With this project behind him, McKenney isn’t stopping his quest to document history. He’s now looking at the floods in Cottonwood Creek that washed out the original Fort Boise cemetery in 1906 and precipitated the cemetery’s move to higher ground.
There are nine unknown people buried at Military Reserve from the relocation and 16 buried at Morris Hill, said McKenney. “There’s no marker, no plaque, nothing to show they were even around,” he said.
McKenney plans to form a committee to raise money to place a memorial plaque to the unknowns at each cemetery.
“That’s going to be my new thing,” he said.
McKenney is also the recipient of a new honor: The Idaho Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, Fort Boise Chapter, recently named him its historian and archivist.
▪ Cemeteries maintained by the city of Boise will be open to visitors throughout the weekend.
Morris Hill Cemetery, 317 N. Latah, is one of the oldest and most well-known cemeteries in the Treasure Valley; Pioneer Cemetery, 460 E. Warm Springs Ave., is the oldest cemetery in continuous use in the city; Military Reserve Cemetery, 1101 Mountain Cove Road, is a historic site that is kept in its natural state, similar to how it looked at the turn of the century.
Staff will be on site at Morris Hill Cemetery to assist family members and visitors from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and Monday, and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
▪ The Idaho Civil War Volunteers group will lead tributes at two sites Monday.
The annual Civil War flag-raising ceremony, eulogy and gun salute will be at noon in the Silent Camp at the Veterans Monument in Morris Hill Cemetery, 317 N. Latah. The ceremony will be repeated at 1:30 p.m. in the Fort Boise Military Reserve Cemetery, 1101 Mountain Cove Road.
The newly installed Civil War markers will be dedicated at 2 p.m. Monday at the Fort Boise Military Reserve Cemetery to honor fallen Civil War veterans.
Visitors are welcome to place artificial flowers, flags, fresh flowers and wreaths graveside. No glass or breakable containers are allowed. All mementos must be picked up by June 6.
Call 208-608-7600 for more information.
▪ The Idaho State Veterans Cemetery, 10100 N. Horseshoe Bend Road, hosts a Memorial Day Ceremony at 10 a.m. Organizers ask that attendees park at Optimist Youth Sports Complex, 9889 W. Hill Road and take a shuttle to the ceremony. Free shuttles will run from 8:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. The cemetery will remain open to the public after the ceremony from noon until sunset. Call 208-780-1340 for more information.
▪ Memorial Day at Kohlerlawn Cemetery: The city of Nampa will honor men and women in the military at a ceremony beginning at 10 a.m. Monday at the Veterans Loop of Kohlerlawn Cemetery, 76 6th St. N. in Nampa. Lt. Col. Ron Powell, Air Defense Artillery, U.S. Army Reserve, will give the keynote speech.
Larry Cain will lead Memorial Day walking tours at 9 and 11:30 a.m. starting at Veterans Loop. These tours will focus on famous Nampa residents of the past. A shuttle will be provided. Parking will be available in designated areas. For more information, call 208-468-5797.
▪ Memorial Day Tribute at Meridian’s Rock of Honor: A tribute begins at 11 a.m. at the Rock of Honor at Julius M. Kleiner Memorial Park in Meridian, near the Meridian Senior Center building at 1900 N. Records Ave. The ceremony will include the reading of the names of the fallen, the burial of a time capsule and more. Seating is limited. Bring a folding chair. Parking is available. Call 208-888-3579 for more information.
▪ Memorial Day at Hillcrest Memorial Gardens: The observance includes refreshments at 11:30 a.m. and a program at 1 p.m. featuring “American Idol” finalist Monica Salinas. 15862 S. Indiana Ave. Call 208-459-4949 for more information.