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Civil War hero's headstone found in backyard
in Soldiers Grove
Marland-William b 1c
William Marland

How did a Civil War Medal of Honor recipient’s partially completed headstone come to reside in a Soldiers Grove backyard? This was the question confronting Lea Hansen and Michael Ames, when they stumbled upon William Marland's headstone behind their house.

Last Thursday morning, Lea sent her husband to clean up and revamp the markers in place for marking their property lines.

“We were preparing to sell our house and the realtor just wanted to make sure the property markers were clear, so I had Michael go up there with a can of spray paint,” explained Lea.

In the course of his rummaging around in the wooded area behind their home, Michael noticed something unusual toward the corner of their property, in an old pen on the property of the late Junior and Linda George, where Linda’s long time partner, Ernie Rundle resides.  

Michael spotted the headstone, and in his shock and excitement quickly grabbed his cell phone and snapped a photo. Barely able to contain the excitement, Michael rushed inside to show his wife.

“I immediately came back, I couldn’t wait one second,” Michael said in describing the moment following his unusual find.  

Later in the afternoon, Lea shared the excitement on the social media network Facebook, requesting more information from community members. Quickly, the gravestone became a hot topic, with many people involved in the hunt for information and many sharing throughout various other pages on Facebook. 

It was quickly discovered through a couple of Google searches that Marland was born in Andover, Massachusetts. The oldest of six cousins, and son of William Stykes Marland and Sara Northy Marland, he was a quick and eager soldier, one of the first from Andover to enlist. Marland joined the Massachusetts 6th Infantry, signing up for a three-month enlistment, instead of waiting for the formation of the Andover Company.

The regiment left immediately for Washington and endured an attack by a secessionist mob, while changing trains in Baltimore. Marland was a sergeant in the regiment’s color guard and sustained a blow in the head from a paving stone that was thrown by a member of the mob. This event known as the Baltimore Riot of 1861 or the Pratt Street Riot produced the first deaths by hostile action in the Civil War.

Later, Marland was commissioned as Second Lieutenant Second Battery, Light Artillery, M.V.M.A position in which he remained until August 11, 1865-serving by promotion as First Lieutenant and Captain, and later made Brevet-Major for “gallant and meritorious services.”

Marland received a Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry at Grand Coteau, Louisiana on November 3, 1863, after having been surrounded by enemy cavalry and his support surrendering, Marland ordered a charge and was able to save the section of the battery that was under his command.

Following his service, Marland was appointed postmaster in Andover from 1869 until 1886. He also operated a reportedly rowdy and popular boarding house and restaurant for many years known as “Phillips Academy ‘Commons’ Boarding House.” Reports also note that Marland became ‘cantankerous and controversial’ in his old age.  Marland retired to Griffin, Georgia, where he died at the age of 66.

However, the question still remained. How a headstone of a Civil War hero could come to rest in a Soldiers Grove backyard? Although reaching out to Facebook yielded some interesting facts about the community and Marland, the mystery of how it came to reside here remained.

Lea decided to call her neighbor, Ernie Rundle, with whom she shares the property line. The home where Rundle resides is also home to the pen, where the stone was located.

“I should have called him in the first place,” admitted Lea with a laugh. Ernie reported that, some 20-plus-years ago he found the headstone “at the dump.” He was unable to remember which dump or the exact year to which he found it.

“I was looking around for stones to help secure the rabbit pen, so I could let them run around,” Ernie explained. Finding the discarded stone to be a perfect fit for his needs, Ernie used it to hold down some tin. There it stayed until it flipped over and was rediscovered by Michael.

Comparing photos of the headstone that resides in Georgia where Marland is buried with the stone found in Soldiers Grove, it appears that the Soldiers Grove stone may have been a dud. It probably was mistakenly carved and tossed away. Some of the letters are shallowly carved, with what appears to be the beginning of a 5 on the death date instead of a 7, for the April 17 death.  The stone is an otherwise dead-on match to the actual one pictured at the graveyard. Both are carved from the same quality stone, cut at the same depth.  

The mystery remains. How did the headstone end up here?