When a little goes a long way

Posted on September 8, 2010 by

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Taking time to walk through the Winchester National Cemetery, it’s obvious the purpose for which this cemetery was made… as a place in which to bury (actually, rebury) Union soldiers.

In addition to the graves that dot this relatively small parcel of land, there are also a number of monuments recognizing the sacrifices of men from places like New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

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But in-between these graves and monuments focused on Union soldiers are the graves of veterans from later years… not everyone buried here is a Union soldier, Civil War veteran, or “Northerner.” You can easily tell that by looking at the individual headstones and reading the inscriptions.

Yet, there are some that aren’t quite as clear. One example is this stone…

Massachusetts Monument

This is plot 4288 in which John Richard Gill, “U.S.A.” is buried.

It may be that the average person who walks through the cemetery won’t make much of this stone, after all, there’s just a name, and the indication that this man, at some point, apparently served in the U.S. military.

In fact, John Richard Gill was a private in Co. B, 1st United States Cavalry, and later served in Co. G, 2nd Veteran Volunteers. He was a Union soldier.

In 1869, this Union soldier married a girl from neighboring Shenandoah County (Mary Jane Stidley, daughter of Robert Stidley).

He was also a pensioner, having applied January 25, 1886.

He died on October 9, 1905, and was buried with full military honors, courtesy of the local Grand Army of the Republic Post… yes, Winchester, Virginia had a G.A.R. Post., named for Union general James A. Mulligan (it appears to have been the only G.A.R. post in the Shenandoah Valley).

This is one instance in which a little doesn’t appear to go a long way as the story behind this man was much more than the headstone tells. On the other hand, for those who take the time to know who the people were beneath the stones, this simple inscription actually goes a long way.

You see, while you can’t possibly know that which I have already mentioned by just looking at the stone, nor would you know, looking at the stone, that Gill was… a Virginian. He was a Virginian who opted for blue instead of gray. He was born ca. 1835, the son of William and Catherine Gill and, like his wife, he too was born in the Shenandoah Valley, but in Frederick County. He even lived at one point, in my home county of Page, residing with his sister in his final years… where, perhaps, he bounced his niece on his knee… a daughter of another Civil War soldier… a Confederate veteran.

That’s all very interesting to me, but this stone leaves me curious. I’m left wondering if Pvt. Gill asked for his stone to be engraved so simply, without any mention of his unit. I’m also wondering if he asked for nothing more than “U.S.A.” to be engraved on the stone. It’s a standard U.S. veteran headstone for the time. He could have requested more on it. His fellow veterans could have looked after him, and asked that his unit information be included. On the other hand, though a Virginian by birth and in death, does the simple inscription “U.S.A.” on his headstone reflect what was the bottom line for him?

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