For more than 100 years, the gravestones of William Ryan and Lewis Jolliot incorrectly marked the men as soldiers of the Confederate Army.
Tomorrow, a ceremony officially rededicates their final resting places with headstones noting their service in the Union Army.
Jolliot, a member of Battery G, 2nd Missouri Light Artillery, passed away at Milwaukee's veterans hospital in 1885. Ryan was a member of Company C, 10th Tennessee Regiment and died in 1892. Both were laid to rest at Calvary Cemetery.
The confusion began in the late 1800s, when members of the Southern army were approved for burial in federal cemeteries. Originally, they were all laid to rest under the same white, rounded-top gravestones. In 1906, the Sons of Confederate Veterans lobbied the federal government to permit a separate designation for Confederate soldiers.
To set the stones apart, Confederate soldiers' markers were ground to a point. According to legend, the Veterans of the Confederate States Army "didn't want no darn Yankees sitting on (their) headstones."
Paul Komlodi is a registered nurse at the Milwaukee VA Center. A born-and-bred Southerner, he immediately took interest to the legend of Confederate soldiers buried in Milwaukee and began researching.
He discovered that the men were incorrectly identified, in part, because they came from units formed Missouri and Tennessee. Those states, while Missouri remained part of the union and Tennessee joined the Confederacy, sent men went to fight on both sides of the battle.
Crews at the cemetery saw the men's home states and filed down the tops without double-checking, sparking a century of mystery.
Along with Civil War re-enactor Rich LeCount, Komlodi began to unravel the legends of Jolliot and Ryan. He sought help from the Veterans Administration, which provided the original files on the soldiers. Finally, last summer, he made a breakthrough.
"The federal archives were on cards, not microfiche," Komlodi says. "But we were able to verify that the two men were, in fact, Union soldiers and we thought they deserved a proper Union burial and to have their gravestones replaced."
The entire process took just less than a year and will be complete when the new gravestones are formally dedicated on Saturday.
During the ceremony, organized in part with the Sons of Union Veterans, two color guards will stand over the gravesites. The first will represent the Confederate Army, which well step back and allow a Union color guard to take its place. The event will conclude with a cannon salute.
The general public is invited to attend the ceremony, which will take place at 2:30 p.m. at Calvary Cemetery, 5503 W. Blue Mound Rd.
Milwaukee's VA Center holds a special place in the nation's history. It was one of the first three such hospitals established by presidential order in 1865 -- the Milwaukee facility opened in December 1866; the last order given by President Lincoln before his assassination.
Originally, the city had a private facility for treating Civil War vets, located Downtown. It quickly became overrun with veterans so physically and emotionally wounded that the efforts of the center's few doctors were becoming fruitless.
"We had loving mothers, sisters and daughters that fought for this," Komlodi says. "They requested assistance from the federal government and it became part of the original U.S. Solders' Home Program.
"Many of these men, because of the severity of their injuries and the mental anguish they endured during the war, could not live among the general public and came here to live with us."
Today, the VA Center -- named for former Congressman Clement J. Zablocki -- encompasses more than 260 acres just southwest of Miller Park. Many of the original structures remain and are in use today. A campaign is currently underway to restore the facility's chapel, which was built in 1889.
The tower building -- the center's most-recognizable structure -- was actually designed to be several floors shorter than its current height. A last-minute change was made to the plans in order to notify the center's early doctors; most of whom lived off-site in Wauwatosa.
"When a train would arrive with new casualties," Komlodi said, "a lantern would be hung in the tower alerting the doctors to come to the hospital."
More than 37,661 veterans are buried at Wood National Cemetery. Those interred served in every American battle since the War of 1812. Among those buried are five Medal of Honor recipients and five unknown soldiers. There is also a 60-ft. granite monument dedicated to Civil War soldiers and sailors erected in 1903.
The cemetery is near capacity and thus, only accepts interrments of those who died in conflict. Other veterans are referred to the VA cemetery at Union Grove, while a search continues for another site in the area.
The rededication ceremony is just part of a week of activities at the VA Center. On Monday, the Sons of Union Veterans hold a Memorial Day service at the cemetery at 10 a.m. Next weekend, the Soldier's Home Foundation presents "Reclaiming our Heritage," an event which salutes the efforts of America's military personnel.