IDAHO FALLS – Early in December, Elaine Johnson was at the Rose Hill Cemetery searching for the grave of her great-great-grandfather, a veteran of the Civil War.
Along the way, she found something else.
“As I looked, I could see just this much of a stone, sticking out of a tree,” she said, demonstrating a small opening with her hands. “I pulled back the branches and, well, I was just amazed.”
Johnson stumbled across the only known Civil War monument in eastern Idaho. The monument was installed in 1911 by local members of the Grand Army of the Republic to commemorate Civil War soldiers buried in the cemetery. The Grand Army of the Republic was a 19th century Union Army veterans’ organization that dissolved in the 1950s. When Johnson found the stone, it was almost entirely enveloped by an overgrown Juniper tree. She was stunned.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said.
Johnson contacted the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, the veterans organization that succeeded the Grand Army of the Republic. The Sons are the monument’s legal owners.
Eric Richhart, representative from the Sons of the Union Veterans, contacted the cemetery. In August, the tree was uprooted and the stone removed for restoration.
The roughly $600 restoration will be funded by the Sons’ national organization, Richhart said. The stone will be reset with a new concrete base and adorned with a plaque stating it was restored by the Sons of the Union Veterans. Richhart hopes to have restoration completed by Veterans Day and would like to hold a Veterans Day rededication ceremony.
“That war is very important to us; it’s part of our heritage,” Richhart said. “The monument talks to us, it tells the story of a war that’s been said many, many times.”
A May 30, 1911, Idaho Register article said the monument was installed on Memorial Day that year by local members of the Grand Army of the Republic’s Post 34. According to the article, the ceremony was held at the “Scenic theatre” – a silent film venue on Broadway that since has been torn down.
Through her research, Johnson discovered more than 130 Civil War veterans are buried in the region. Yet poor record-keeping back then has prevented many of the graves from being located. Finding the Rose Hill monument has inspired Johnson to continue the search.
“I would like to think my great-great-grandfather was leading me to that monument,” she said. “I would like to think (the veterans) would be glad they’re being remembered, to know they’re not forgotten – it was a serious sacrifice.”