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More than 102 years after his death, Civil War officer will be laid to rest in Missouri

Maj. Raphael Guido Rombauer, around the time of the Civil War.
Maj. Raphael Guido Rombauer, around the time of the Civil War. Submitted photo

Two days and 150 years after Appomattox, the remains of a Missouri Civil War veteran will be interred.

Not re-interred. Buried for the first time.

Hundreds of admirers, including some from Kansas City, will travel to Carthage in southwest Missouri on Saturday to honor Maj. Raphael Guido Rombauer, who served in several Union Army units. Also attending: Elizabeth Young of Kirkwood, Mo., Rombauer’s great-great-grandaughter. Alerted to the unusual status of her relative’s ashes, Young retrieved them last September from a St. Louis mortuary, where they had been stored for more than a century.

That’s what will be buried on Saturday.

“I’m really happy with the way people have found this to be important, and how they want to be sure that veterans are honored and appreciated,” Young said this week.

Just why her relative’s remains sat unclaimed for 102 years is a mystery. Still, Rombauer’s funeral service allows area Civil War buffs to observe the 150th anniversary of the conflict’s end in a unique way and also opens a window on the fragile nature of community memory.

“It’s unusual to bury a Civil War soldier in the 21st Century, and it’s particularly unusual to bury a Civil War soldier we know a great deal about,” said Jeff Patrick, librarian at the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield near Springfield.

“Rombauer is very well documented.”

No ordinary soldier

He immigrated to Iowa and then St. Louis with his parents and siblings after the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-1849. Rombauer joined Missouri and Illinois infantry units and served as an aide to Gen. Ulysses Grant, transcribing some of the general’s communications into Hungarian for security. Rombauer also led an artillery unit before being mustered out in 1865.

He moved to Carthage in 1874, where a street remains named for him, marking his efforts to bring a railroad to the community that was rebuilding after the war. He purchased a plot in Carthage’s Park Cemetery and, in 1899, buried his wife Emma there. He invested in a southeast Kansas coal mining venture and he founded his own coal mining company in Kirksville, Mo., where he died in 1912.

Family members sent his body to St. Louis to be cremated, after which his remains were placed in a handsome urn with a metal plate identifying its contents.

There they stayed.

Young, whose hobby is genealogy, last year came across detailed information regarding her ancestor and his ashes on the “Find A Grave” website.

Although she remembered her grandmother speaking of Rombauer, Young had no idea why his remains had not been claimed.

“He had a second wife,” Young said. “Maybe she wanted him to be with her. Maybe somebody didn’t have the money to pick him up.

“Your guess is as good as mine.”

Picking up Rombauer’s ashes at the Valhalla Funeral Chapel, Crematory and Cemetery in St. Louis proved no problem.

“I just called them,” Young said. “They asked for $100 and I gave them $100. That’s less than a dollar a year.”

In 2013, the remains of two unidentified crew members of the USS Monitor received burial services at Arlington National Cemetery. The remains had been found inside the turret of the Union ironclad during a 2002 recovery operation. The ship had sunk in an 1862 squall off the North Carolina coast.

In 2004, large crowds attended the South Carolina funeral services for eight crew members of the H.L. Hunley after their remains had been retrieved following the 2000 recovery of the Confederate submarine from Charleston Harbor.

“With the Monitor and Hunley, there was the expectation that there would be some remains,” Patrick said.

“Nobody was expecting to find Rombauer’s.”

But his ashes had been hiding in plain sight at the Valhalla Chapel. Bill Boggess, a former Cartharge researcher who died last month, had been researching Rombauer’s career. So had Susan Ing, a St. Louis member of Missing in America, an organization that looks to identify the unclaimed cremated remains of American military veterans.

“We were in the process of approving Major Rombauer for a Jefferson Barracks ceremony when his family came in,” Ing said. “I was thrilled.”

Young dropped off her relative’s remains at Carthage’s Park Cemetery last December, and a community of Civil War scholars and students have been preparing for his services since.

A proper funeral

One caveat: Saturday’s funeral will be just that, said Steve Weldon, director of the Jasper County Records Center. Rombauer’s remains will be placed in the family plot alongside those of his wife and two of their five children.

“It is not a Civil War re-enactment or living history event,” Weldon said. “This is an actual gravesite ceremony and we want to show respect for the gentleman.”

There will be some re-enactment components. Patrick, a member of the Sons of Union Veterans, a national organization made up of descendants of Union soldiers, sailors and Marines, will carry Rombauer’s urn in the ceremony’s processional.

A team of National Park Service representatives will fire a replica 6-pound cannon to mark Rombauer’s service leading an artillery unit. And several members of the Holmes Brigade, a Civil War re-enactment group, will form an honor guard.

The military rituals Saturday will be conducted according to 1861 U.S. Army regulations, said Kip Lindberg, brigade member.

“We are trying to do our best for Maj. Rombauer to create a funeral that his colleagues would have experienced, right down to the black crepe draped around the drums,” said Lindberg, director of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps Museum at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

The timing of Rombauer’s service is fitting, added Aaron Racine, a Kansas City lawyer who serves as Holmes Brigade captain.

“It is incredibly coincidental, and you could say almost divine, that we are marking the Civil War’s anniversary by putting to rest this Civil War veteran,” Racine said. “We want to get him back home to his family.”

Saturday’s service also will help restore Rombauer’s southwest Missouri legacy, Weldon said.

“Rombauer basically had been forgotten in Carthage,” Weldon said. “There was a street named after him but nobody knew why. He was an important industrialist, part of the great industry that came into this region. Over time, memory of all that was lost.

“All glory is fleeting but that is not going to be the case after Saturday.”

To reach Brian Burnes, call 816-234-4120 or send email to bburnes@kcstar.com.

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