DANVILLE — If Capt. Tilmon Dwight Kyger could see his 8-foot tall monument today, he would be proud.
For decades his tombstone had looked rather forlorn. It was covered with tree sap, dirt and moss stains. The spire lay broken near the base. A falling tree branch had taken it down during a windstorm. The inscribed reference to his military service looked like “78th” Illinois Infantry, but I knew he had been in the 73rd.
My eyes strained as I attempted to read the Bible verse in small script along the bottom of his epitaph. Now, everyone can clearly see that he was an officer in the famed 73rd Illinois Infantry, the regiment that coined the phrase, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!” The two-line verse on the lower part of the stone is easily read, as well.
Several years ago when I first saw his marker, which is south of the Colonel Harmon gravesite in Block One at Spring Hill Cemetery, I felt sad. Here was a brave soldier who rose in rank to become an officer. He had fought hard, risked his life over and over, led his men through battle after battle, and endured cold, heat and sickness to preserve a broken nation and to help free a people. But his stone was deteriorating, and part of it was in pieces on the ground. It reminded me of last year when we dedicated a military marker for Medal of Honor recipient Martin McHugh (McCue) at Resurrection Cemetery. With no evidence of his gravesite, he had been lost for more than 100 years.
I realized that in generations to come, even though Capt. Kyger’s monument would likely still be there, it would become just another faded tombstone and he would become a faded memory.
While researching for an article this past Christmas about Civil War soldiers 150 years ago, I was re-reading the regimental history of the 73rd Illinois Infantry. I saw references to T.D. Kyger and a drawing of the young captain. But when I looked at his image, my mind suddenly pictured his stone in need of repair and restoration.
The story told of how he had picked up the regiment’s fallen flag after his color bearer was wounded. Capt. Kyger helped the young soldier up and together, they carried the banner through fierce fire from above to plant it as one of the first Union regimental flags on top of Lookout Mountain.
Work done right
I felt it was our duty to pick up the broken parts of his stone, and to have it restored. I wrote in that Christmas article that our Civil War Roundtable group hoped to get that done this year. Well, I am happy to report that the job is almost complete. Although you can’t really tell, it’s still missing a piece for the very top. Perhaps there’s an old picture of the stone that will show what was up there at one time.
We watched as Tawne and Erik stepped in with their Hedge’s Stone Restoration crew a few Saturdays ago to get the job started, and now the sun reflects proudly off the captain’s monument. We never imagined how good it could look beneath the grime that had accumulated since the late 1800s.
In watching a presentation on restoring tombstones by Dawn Cobbs and Hal Hassan from the state of Illinois a few weeks ago at a Roundtable meeting, we learned how important it is to use the right materials and cleaning solutions.
“Trained and licensed professionals are needed to perform proper stone restoration,” they said. We wanted to make sure that Captain Kyger’s stone would appear in their updated video program as one of those done right, and not in the “how not to repair a stone” section. As we said at that meeting, perhaps the restoration of this monument will get the process started to repair more stones at Spring Hill.
The next stone on our list for restoration is near Capt. Kyger’s. It marks the graves of two infant daughters of Lincoln friend and law partner, Ward Hill Lamon, and his sister Elizabeth. Several smaller cemeteries have undergone restoration projects in the past recently, and we applaud those who have been working on them. The Vermilion County Museum Society is helping restore the old cemetery near the rest stop west of Danville.
Office Manager Pat Phillips at Spring Hill Cemetery said, “We welcome the assistance that volunteers can bring us. From trained professionals to people who would like to just help pick up the constantly falling twigs and branches, or even just making notes about stones that are in need of repair while walking through the cemetery.
“Being a not-for-profit organization, and operating only on the interest from two funds, along with the income from new burials, floral and lot sales, it’s a very tight budget to maintain the 60 acres of Spring Hill based on today’s extremely low interest rates.”
Other than helping raise stones that are sinking, the families are responsible for the repair and maintenance of the stones. Phillips said Spring Hill has so many markers dating back to the 1800s that often family members cannot be located or don’t have the funds to maintain the gravesites.
That’s where individuals and groups can help.
The Illiana Civil War Historical Society also has joined with our Civil War Roundtable in this restoration effort. The group’s commander, a long-time friend and fellow living history presenter, Eugene Bencomo, said, “Some of the money that we usually donate to battlefield restoration each year was put toward this cemetery stone project, because this is such a big part of preserving our past.
“We’re happy to help the Civil War Roundtable promote and preserve the history of those who fought on the battlefields.”
Buried next to T.D. Kyger are his wife, Sarah Elizabeth; their youngest son, John; and her parents, Iva and Herman English. Kyger’s enlistment papers list his occupation as a “merchandizer.” Post-war records show him as a “miller” and a “lawyer.” He died at age 42 in 1876.
‘Adopt’ a plot
Phillips likes the idea of organizations like the Roundtable and Historical Society “adopting” certain aspects of the cemetery’s history. Groups and individuals have worked on projects in the past, such as the placement of the stone for Lincoln housekeeper, Mariah Vance, and efforts to get government markers in the Soldier’s Circle. She is also interested in putting together fundraisers for the cemetery in order to make improvements and help with maintenance costs. She is working on a number of ideas from a recent conference.
My wife Rhea Ann suggested a series of tours like the ones presented at Bellefontaine Cemetery at St. Louis, where several of her relatives are buried.
Those programs have included, “Women in History,” “Movers and Shakers, Scalawags and Suffragettes,” “Ghosts of the Past Cemetery Bike Tour,” “A Journey Through History,” “Art and Architecture,” “Tales from Bellefontaine,” “Famous Names Tour,” and the list goes on.
Here, our group has done “Friends of Lincoln,” and a “Civil War Tour,” for our own members, but those could be open to the public as a fundraiser for the cemetery, much like the Living History Walks at Spring Hill that have raised money for various organizations. Concerts are also held at Bellefontaine. Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis has a similar set of tours each year.
If you’d like to donate time, talent or money toward helping Spring Hill Cemetery, contact Office Manager Pat Phillips at 442-0334.