2012-01-26 / Front Page

Gravestone ensures Civil War nurse won’t be forgotten

Grave of Mary Dunbar in WLB cemetery in need of new headstone

Michelle Green’s mission is to place a new marker on the grave of Civil War nurse Mary Dunbar (1815-1887), whose service as a member of the Woman’s Relief Corps is not recognized by the federal government. The timeworn gravestone is now barely legible. 
PHOTOS BY ERIC SUCAR staff Michelle Green’s mission is to place a new marker on the grave of Civil War nurse Mary Dunbar (1815-1887), whose service as a member of the Woman’s Relief Corps is not recognized by the federal government. The timeworn gravestone is now barely legible. PHOTOS BY ERIC SUCAR staff WEST LONG BRANCH — If you have ever wondered who places the American flags on the gravestones of fallen war veterans in the Old First Methodist Cemetery every Memorial Day, then wonder no more.

Michelle Green andArthur T. Green II, of West Long Branch, took the reins nearly 18 years ago from the local American Legion post and are now officially assigned by the county to do so every year.

In the beginning, however, there was one problem.

“There were no burial records for the Old First Methodist Cemetery of where anyone is [buried]. The county gave us a listing, a computer printout with names and said, ‘Find them,’ ” Arthur Green said.

Without any maps, the couple began going row by row, reading the gravestones, and with much time and effort was able to identify close to 300 names, about 130 more than those on the list. There was one name in particular that stood out: Mary Dunbar.

“She was the mystery,” said Michelle. “She was a Civil War nurse and we knew nothing about her. Her gravestone was legible when we started this, but as time goes on, it’s getting harder and harder to read.”

The Woman’s Relief Corps (WRC) and the New Jersey Grand Army of the Republic (NJGAR) erected the white marble stone, which is engraved with the organizations’ initials along with Dunbar’s birth date, Sept. 10, 1815, and date of death, March 4, 1887.

Thatwas all Michelle Green needed to dig a little deeper. Through intensive research through the 1875 Census, the 1880 Census and Dunbar’s 1887 death record, she discovered that the Civil War nurse was a resident of the state for the last 12 years of her life, having moved to Long Branch in 1875 before her death.

Though Dunbar was listed on the Monmouth County Veterans grave registry as a CivilWar nurse, the U.S. government kept no official records of the women who served as nurses during that time.

“There were some official women who were Civil War nurses, but they were few and far between. Most of the nursing corps was nongovernment entities,” explained Arthur Green. “They were volunteers in soldiers’aid societies, sanitary commissions, church groups — women that just got together and cared for the wounded. They were nurses, but they weren’t officially government nurses.”

Because the federal government does not officially recognize Dunbar’s service during war, she is not eligible to receive a replacement marker because technically she is not considered a veteran.

“That’s where I come in,” said Michelle. “We’re doing this whole project because you can’t get a replacement from the government.”

She said the project has been on her mind for a long time, but she decided it was finally time to take action last summer, which marked the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

“The original marker will be in front, but there will be a companion stone that will be flat in the ground in front of it and will cost about $900,” said Michelle, who runs a Civil War and Soldiers’Aid Society living history group that does presentations in the area.

“The group is a part of the group that he [Arthur] does, Tilghman’s Brigade, and all of the money we raise is going through that nonprofit,” she said.

Michelle said she attributes her passion for the project to her love of history and the couple’s family military background.

“I think we hit every branch of the military with careers and West Point graduates, all of my family. My dad was in the Army and Arthur’s dad was a World War II veteran,” she explained.

Arthur said his family history dates back to before the American Revolution, settling in the Long Branch area around 1680. Not only does the couple share strong military backgrounds in a long line of family history, but they also have collected more than 3,000 artifacts from the Revolutionary War through WorldWar II.

The pair admitted they weren’t aware of what they were getting themselves into when they started this homage 18 years ago. It seems their passion has only grown.

“We get a permit every year from the National

Park Service that allows us to go into the national military cemetery, and we decorate the graves with flags for the 78 New Jersey soldiers that are buried in Gettysburg, Pa. We’ve been doing that since 2000. It just keeps snowballing,” said Arthur Green.

“But not many people are going to go out and get a gravestone for someone who’s not even related to you. That, in itself, says a lot.”

Dunbar may not be related to Michelle Green, but they do share membership in the Woman’s Relief Corps, of which Michelle is a new member simply trying to honor one of their fallen. The nation’s fallen.

“I don’t want her to be forgotten,” she said. “It’s the same way I wouldn’t want someone in my family who did something during the Civil War and not be able to recognize them. You just don’t want to let people … die.”

The new Mary Dunbar grave marker is expected to be installed in the spring. Donations may be sent to Tilghman’s Brigade, at 46 Mount Drive, West Long Branch.

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