MILLERSBURG, Ohio (AP) — Trying to identify all the Civil War soldiers buried in Holmes County is an enormous task.
More than 2,000 men from the county were in uniform during the war — the highest percentage of the population of any of Ohio's 88 counties. It is not known how many are interred in Holmes County cemeteries.
Forrest Chanay, of Killbuck, acknowledges the difficulties involved in this project — especially doing it by himself — but he is determined to finish it. "It's something that needs to be done," he said.
The information he gathers will be included in a national database being compiled by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.
In addition, the 78-year-old Army veteran hopes to get markers installed for all Civil War soldiers who lack one.
"No veteran should lie in an unmarked grave," Chanay said.
Chanay became interested in the Civil War in the 1960s when he was a member of a book club. He started buying books about the war, eventually amassing about 950 volumes on the subject. In recent years, his focus has been on the Battle of Gettysburg.
He helped found the Holmes County Civil War Roundtable and does living history, dressing as a Civil War soldier to talk to schools and retirees or "anyone who wants to listen."
When he heard about the Sons of Union Veterans database project, he knew he wanted to get involved.
"Nobody was working on our county, so I took that on," Chanay said.
He has spent countless hours at the Holmes County Recorder's Office, recording information from cemetery records compiled by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression.
One of his focuses has been the Oak Hill Cemetery in Millersburg. Chanay estimates that he has been through the burial records at the cemetery at least three times.
While working on Oak Hill, he became aware of seven unmarked graves in a section designated for use by Civil War veterans who didn't have family or friends to bury them. He decided to get markers for those men from the Veterans Administration, which provides free gravestones for all veterans. He did the project in the name of the Holmes County Civil War Roundtable.
"The VA furnishes the stone, but it's up to you or your organization to pay the cost of installation," Chanay said.
Several people donated money to pay for the installation.
The markers were dedicated at a ceremony on Memorial Day 2006, featuring a reenactment group, Company B, 51st Ohio Volunteer Infantry from Zoar. Descendants of some of the soldiers also attended the event.
Chanay said there are as many as 50 unmarked soldiers graves at Oak Hill alone. "It's unbelievable that one cemetery could have that many," he said.
"A lot of them didn't have family here," he said. "They were immigrants. There was nobody to request gravestones."
He has prepared applications to send to the VA for 16 more gravestones, but he doesn't expect to get them this year. It can take up to six months to get an application approved.
Chanay has completed recording veterans graves in western Holmes County, but he has yet to begin on the eastern part of the county. He knows that there are at least a dozen soldiers buried in Berlin.
He doesn't expect to get 100 percent of the soldiers in the database because of holes in the records in Holmes County.
When the weather breaks, Chanay wants to try to mark the grave of a Confederate soldier buried in Nashville in the western part of the county. "I have a name, that's all," he said. He doesn't know where the soldier is buried.
"I want to make sure this man gets a proper flag," he said.
Chanay is pleased with what he has accomplished so far.
"I feel good that we're making some progress, but I don't know if I'll live long enough to do all of Holmes County," he said. "Hopefully, I'll get someone to help."