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Cambridge man preserves the legacy of Civil War Soldiers
John Lowe
The Daily Jeffersonian

When the 24-year-old Guernsey County man went off to war, the Civil War was winding down. He never saw battle, nor even the front. Yet, within a month, he was dead.

“He just went down to do guard duty at Gallipolis,” Tom Snyder said. “He lasted a month and died – probably of disease or something like that.”

But Snyder isn’t sure. It’s one of perhaps hundreds of mysteries he has uncovered since he began documenting the graves of Guernsey County’s Civil War veterans.

Snyder’s work will add to a nationwide effort by the Sons of Union Veterans to peel back the effects of time and weather and preserve the memory of the men who saved this nation. As a member himself of the SUV, Snyder volunteered to take on the task for Guernsey County.

That was two years ago. Since then, he has searched cemeteries, checked courthouse records and cross-referenced finding against the Ohio Roster of Civil War Soldiers.

He has unearthed the scoop on some 600 veterans. But he is humbled by what remains to be done.

“When I started out,” he said, “I really didn’t have any idea of how many Union soldiers there would be in this county.

“But, as near as I can figure, somewhere between 2,500 and 5,000 Civil War veterans [lie here]. That’s really just a guess.

“Of course, the problem is time and weather, have destroyed a lot of markers.”

Despite the inevitable mysteries, Snyder has found the project to be an education.

“One of the interesting things,” he said, “about this project is you learn just a tremendous amount by digging up information and by finding these people’s graves.”

Tom Snyder’s method of documentation

When Cambridge resident Tom Snyder began documenting the burial sites of Guernsey County Civil War veterans two years ago, he started by searching the cemeteries of the county.

Although that approach worked in some cases, in many instances, time and the effects of weather had eroded the engravings to the point where many were illegible.

Now, Snyder takes a multipronged approach. He still checks cemeteries. But he is just as likely to get a lead from the Guernsey County Courthouse of the Finley Room of the Guernsey County District Library,

Snyder’s volunteer work is part of a nationwide effort by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War to document gravesites and preserve information about the veterans.

Information he is hunting includes name, military unit and dates of birth and death, as well as any other incidental information he can obtain.

“The first place I get information,” Snyder said, “is the stone, if it’s on the stone. If it’s not on the stone, I can get some information from the county records downtown in the recorder’s office.”

If he cannot find a death certificate, he will go to the Finley Room in the library to check the Ohio Roster of Civil War Soldiers.

“What I try to do is build on all of these. I’ll check the information in all three spots to see how accurate it is. If all three match up, then that’s what I will put down.

“If there is a question, I’ll put down a question mark. If there is no information, I’ll just leave it blank until I can come back to it.”

Why he volunteered for the project.

The veterans of all wars have made sacrifices, Tom Snyder believes.

“But the Civil War,” he said, “has a special interest for me because of my great great grandfather, Sam Ray.”

Being a “child of the ‘70s,” Snyder once had a strong steak of anti-establishment, anti-authoritarianism, anti-military running through him.

As he grew older, he mellowed and he began reading about the Civil War, an interest further spurred by his ancestor’s involvement in that war. He even obtained from his mother a photograph a Ray and, so, was able to put a face to a war that seems remote to many people today.

Snyder learned Ray was killed during the Battle of Jonesborough, south of Atlanta, in September 1864.

“I started investigating his story,” Snyder said, “and the trials and tribulations he went thorough.

“He moved in Illinois and had five children with his wife. He went away to war and never came back. He left her to raise the kids and she didn’t have any money. All she had was a farm. So, they had a rough life.

“He made a sacrifice for his country.”

Tom Snyder uses chalk, a tip he picked up from the Genealogical Society, to bring out the faded engraving on a gravestone of a Civil War veteran, William Spears, one of the only several "colored troops" from Guernsey County to fight in that war.

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