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At long last, a headstone for a veteran who served with the Union Army

Flags, flowers and other mementos adorn headstones. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser)

Charles Sigmund, a Civil War veteran and piano tuner from South Philadelphia, was buried near a stand of sassafras trees in Mount Moriah Cemetery in Yeadon on April 8, 1928, at age 80.

From the day of his interment until Saturday, Sigmund — who’d ridden a cavalry horse into artillery fire at New Market, Va., in 1864, and had witnessed Gen. Robert E. Lee surrender at Appomattox Court House, also in Virginia, in 1865 — did not have a headstone to mark his grave.

To correct that, family members, with the help of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Sons of Union Veterans, and a nonprofit overseeing the cemetery held a ceremony in the late morning to unveil a sculpted slab of light-gray granite that bore Sigmund’s name, and proclaimed his service in the 20th Pennsylvania Cavalry.

The Beck’s Philadelphia Brigade Band, a brass ensemble dressed in Union soldier uniforms, played 19th-century songs. A similarly attired honor guard of five people fired three volleys with rifled muskets into the blue sky as a breeze detached leaves from branches and American flags rustled.

“This is closure for my family,” said Gary Sigmund, 67, of Pitman, who teaches software engineering at Defense Acquisition University in Fort Belvoir, Va. Charles Sigmund was Gary’s great-grandfather’s brother. “A veteran deserves a headstone.”

Last March, Gary and his son, Bryan, 38, an HVAC specialist from West Deptford, went looking for the grave of the ancestor they believed was buried at Mount Moriah.

It turned out to be a difficult search in a tangled landscape of toppled grave markers and overgrown weeds.

Beyond that, Mount Moriah comprises 160 acres, part of it in Yeadon, part in Southwest Philadelphia.

And without a headstone, Charles could be anywhere.

“It was very disheartening,” Gary said. “We were wandering aimlessly.”

They left, only to return a month later armed with more precise information on where to look, thanks in part to the nonprofit Friends of Mount Moriah, an organization that is cleaning and restoring the cemetery after it ceased officially operating in 2011.

For years, Gary, the family historian, had been researching Charles’ life. Pre-internet, he began scouring records to learn what he could about the man who began a “long lineage of military history in our family — my father in the Army, me in the Navy,” Gary said. “He inspired a love of country, along with respect and honor.”

Charles had joined the Union Army at age 17 in 1864. From then until the war ended, 128 men in his regiment lost their lives, Gary learned.

After being discharged, Charles worked as a cabinetmaker and polisher, then got a job tuning pianos in a shop at 11th and Chestnut Streets.

At age 20, according to Gary, Charles married Dorothea Orth, also from South Philadelphia. They had a son, William, who died after his first birthday. A daughter, Dorothea, died at 23, likely in childbirth. Charles’ wife died in 1915.

Through it all, Charles lived a life that started under President James Polk as the country moved west, and ended with Calvin Coolidge in the White House on the eve of the Great Depression.

But it was his Civil War service the family will remember, said Barbara Horton, a nun from Baltimore who is Charles’ distant cousin.

“These people fought for democracy,” Horton said. “At this uncertain point in our country today, it’s important to know how important that idea was to Civil War military.

“It’s our responsibility to treasure the people who fought that war, so we could keep going.”


(c) 2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.