MANKATO, Minn. — Shortly after moving to a farmhouse just a couple miles southeast of St. Clair in the 1990s, Laurie Abraham and a friend wandered across the gravel road to pick some orange lilies growing in a field of prairie and trees. As they were walking through the tall grass, Abraham tripped on what turned out to be a headstone.
“It was overgrown, we didn’t know it was even a cemetery,” Abraham said. “We got a group of friends together and just cleaned it all up, then my husband took care of it.”
Over the years her husband, Wayne, who died last year, became the caretaker of what turned out to be a Civil War-era cemetery with 12 marked graves. The site is the final resting place of a soldier who fought for the Union.
Many appeared to be over a century old, including one gravestone with the name “Josiah Wood,” just barely legible from the yellow and orange lichens that were growing on it.
Neighbors chipped in to clean up the site. Wayne Abraham then installed a flagpole, raised an American flag and a built white picket fence around some of the gravestones.
Rita Kuznia’s family has lived on the 120 acres adjacent to the cemetery for generations, and over the years she’s picked up bits of information on its origin.
“The reason the cemetery is here is the wagon trail used to come right through here,” Kuznia said. “The way it was explained to me is as the children died, they just stopped here to bury their young before they headed down this road to cross the Le Sueur River. So that’s how the cemetery started, as a place to bury the people who died on the wagon train.”
What stood out to Wayne Abraham though was Josiah Wood’s headstone in particular, a man who fought in the American Civil War. So, he reached out to St. Clair American Legion Post 475 to see if they could help.
Since then, veterans from Post 475 hold a ceremony every Memorial Day in honor of Bunker Hill Cemetery’s only known veteran.
While Wood is the only veteran known to be buried here, Jeff Kronvack, a Gulf War veteran and member of the St. Clair American Legion, suspects there are far more people buried here than the 12 headstones reveal. The ground in the cemetery is full of impressions and mounds that suggest many of the graves here are unmarked.
Kronvack explained the inscription on Wood’s grave.
“Inscribed in stone you can see a COF, CO standing for company, F would be Foxtrot,” he explained. “Then we’ve got a 1st MINN ART, which would probably stand for artillery, and artillery batteries were common back then. This would tell you he served under the 1st Artillery Battery under Company F.”
The headstone was welcome news for Julie Schrader, who had Josiah Wood’s name, but not a gravesite location. Since 2015, she has been on a mission to identify the names and gravesites of all the Civil War veterans who enlisted or had lived in Blue Earth County.
Schrader has identified and located 115 gravesites of Civil War veterans at Glenwood Cemetery in Mankato alone. Her database has expanded to 918 civil war veterans who either lived or enlisted in Blue Earth County. Her mission is to find them.
“A lot of the veterans; names that we started with came from the History of Blue Earth County that was written by Thomas Hughes in 1909,” she said. “Then I’ve been searching the cemetery transcriptions at the historical society and going through their obituaries. It’s been a process, but my list is really growing.”
Her goal is to branch out from Mankato to locate and identify Civil War graves in rural parts of the county.