HURRICANE, W.Va. - Civil War veteran William Harrison Searls Sr. slept in an unmarked grave for almost 100 years, unrecognized for his service among the Union forces during the Civil War.
Leaving his wife and four children in 1864, Searls enrolled at Camp Chase in Columbus, Ohio, in Company E of the 188th regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry, serving under Capt. Alex McIntosh. He was promoted to corporal in July1865, and he served in the Murfreesboro and Nashville areas of Tennessee.
Following his return home, Searls and his wife moved to the Hurricane, West Virginia, area where they raised a total of 13 children. Later in his life, Searls granted several acres of his own land for the Mount Olive Independent Baptist Church and cemetery where he now rests. He died shortly before his 85th birthday in October 1918, but his grave was never marked.
Earlier this year, Keith Searls, a Gallipolis Ferry, West Virginia, native now living in Huntington and working as a supervisory medical technologist at the Huntington VA Medical Center, began pursuing recognition for his great-great-grandfather.
Keith Searls submitted an application through the memorial programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Service, and after some brief correspondence, approval was granted to have a headstone grave marker inscribed to honor his great-great-grandfather's military service.
Once the headstone was received, the family erected it in the cemetery and began planning the dedication ceremony. On Sunday, May 22, more than 50 family members gathered at the cemetery to honor their ancestor. Family members ranging from great-grandchildren all the way to great-great-great-great-grandchildren participated in the ceremony by offering family history, prayers, songs and words of dedication, and by laying a wreath on the grave.
The greatest honor was bestowed on Cpl. Searls by two members of a Civil War re-enactors group. Fred Harmon, RN, clinical nurse coordinator at the Huntington VAMC and his friend Ryan Eastham dressed in their Union Army blue uniforms, marched to the graveside, presented arms and stood at attention during the entire dedication ceremony.
At the proper time, the soldiers fired three volleys from their muskets during a military gun salute.
As the smoke from the muskets cleared the air, the Searls family was at peace knowing that nearly a century after his death, their ancestor's military service had been appropriately recognized.
Keith Searls is the great-great-grandson of William Harrison Searls Sr.