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Determined genealogists combine to restore memory of soldier

Civil War vet honored

One mystery surrounding Pvt. Hugh McLaughlin was recently solved.

For 106 years, the Confederate soldier’s body lay in an unmarked grave in Spokane’s Greenwood Memorial Terrace cemetery.

Genealogists, including McLaughlin’s great-granddaughter, Bonnie Young, tracked down the grave, and a new marble headstone was unveiled in a graveside dedication ceremony Saturday.

“It was pretty much lost history,” Young said.

She knew her ancestor’s body was somewhere in the area, but didn’t know exactly where, and didn’t know the history of his Civil War service. For Young, locating McLaughlin’s grave brings her one step closer to piecing together her family history.

“It’s fascinating,” Young said. “I love puzzles.”

McLaughlin’s family and the Washington Artillery Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans worked with the federal Veterans Affairs Department to obtain the marble headstone.

Saturday’s ceremony included a Confederate honor guard in ragtag gray uniforms, who loaded their muskets for a salute, and a bugler who played taps and “Charge.” It served as a family reunion for Young and McLaughlin’s other descendants.

“I haven’t seen some of them for ages,” Young said. “It was really nice.”

The sleuthing started with a Seattle-based genealogist who discovered some census data indicating a Confederate soldier had died in Spokane. That genealogist reached out to local genealogist Pat Weeks through the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness website. Weeks, who has no relation to McLaughlin’s family, called area cemeteries to find McLaughlin’s burial place, then decided to find the soldier’s grave to document the information on his marker.

“We came out to photograph it, because that’s what genealogists do,” Weeks said. “There was nothing but weeds.”

She thought, “that’s unacceptable.”

“So, I started to try to track down the next nearest relative,” she said. “It was kind of hard.”

Through Internet research and a lot of persistence, Weeks found Young, and they worked with Sons of Confederate Veterans to get the marker.

“It’s a little bizarre,” Weeks said of the way the story unraveled, adding, “I would have done it for anyone. Until that headstone was placed there, it was just bushes. No one will ever walk by here again without knowing a Confederate soldier is buried there.”

The ceremony also served as a Civil War history lesson.

McLaughlin, 71 when he died, fought through the entire Civil War with the 19th Mississippi Infantry, including in the decisive battles at Antietam and Gettysburg.

It is still unknown why he ended up in Washington, but many vanquished soldiers headed west after the war seeking a new start, according to Washington Artillery Camp Lt. Commander Randy Guthrie. More than 400 Confederate soldiers are known to be buried in Washington.

“Today, that number has gone up by one,” Guthrie said.

Sons of Confederate Veterans is a national organization that strives to preserve history and the memory of Confederate dead, and strongly opposes hate groups, Cmdr. Rick Leaumont said.

“These men fought honorably,” Leaumont said. “They fought for states’ rights and the Constitution.”

McLaughlin’s grave is located in an unkempt portion of the cemetery under the boughs of a pine tree, surrounded by brush and other graves, some dating to the 19th century. Many are long forgotten, but not McLaughlin’s.

“This is a part of our history,” Leaumont said. “If we’re not careful, we’ll lose it. He was a real hero.”

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