Time Machine: Rock from the Civil War

Gettysburg boulder has been in Lisbon for 100 years

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In 1916, Memorial Day was commonly known as Decoration Day, which was established after the Civil War. On that day, soldiers’ graves were decorated with flowers.

The observance was particularly poignant in Lisbon, because of the efforts of the Women’s Relief Corps No. 254 and a pair of Lisbon men, William F. Stahl and Charles G. Delo.

The W.R.C. wanted to honor Civil War veterans with a monument. W.R.C. members decided to try to obtain a boulder from Gettysburg because several area soldiers had fought on that battlefield.

W.R.C. members began petitioning the War Department and the Gettysburg Park Commission in 1914 for permission to remove a stone from the field and bring it to Iowa as a memorial. They met with considerable resistance at first.

William F. Stahl, editor of the Lisbon Sun, and Lisbon native Charles Delo, chief engineer of the Chicago Great Western Railroad Co., aided the W.R.C.’s efforts.

Stahl traveled to Washington to speak with representatives of the War Department and to Pennsylvania to petition the Gettysburg Park commissioners. The War Department told him, “it is against the law to allow any rocks to be removed from the battlefield,” but officials promised to take up the matter in a few days.

Stahl also was warned that the monetary cost of removing a boulder would be very high. Charles Delo’s connections with the railroad, however, mitigated that cost. He arranged to have the stone moved for free.

The War Department and the Gettysburg Park Commission granted special permission to remove a boulder if the removal would not desecrate or mar the appearance of the battlefield.

The blue granite stone chosen was removed from a spot along the Baltimore Pike, near where the right flank of Gen. George Meade’s army fought. The boulder measured five feet by six feet and was three feet thick. It weighed about four tons.

Delo immediately scheduled rail transportation from Pennsylvania to Cedar Rapids. The Interurban took over from there and carried the boulder to Lisbon.

It arrived on Friday, April 7, 1916. Volunteers unloaded the huge rock and placed it in a temporary spot in the Lisbon Cemetery, while a foundation specifically designed for it was constructed. When it was set in place, it stood near a grassy area where four Lisbon veterans who had served in Meade’s army were buried: Josiah Richard in 1911, Dewalt S. Fouse in 1912, David Bruch in 1915 and Benjamin S. Rowe in 1916. Three more were added later: Daniel Stahl and William Barnicle in 1927 and Conrad Bowers in 1929.

On Decoration Day 1916, the boulder rested under a large U.S. flag, waiting for re-dedication and re-consecration during services arranged by the Women’s Relief Corps. The speaker for the ceremony was the Hon. Herbert C. Ring, a lawyer from Cedar Rapids who was serving in the Iowa House of Representatives. When he finished, the dedication ceremony began, during which the color bearers of the W.R.C. unveiled the monument.

A bronze plaque bolted to the stone read: “This boulder from the battlefield of Gettysburg is here rededicated and reconsecrated to the memory of the soldiers and sailors of the Union armies of 1861-65. Erected by the Women’s Relief Corps No. 254, 1916.”

The city of Lisbon paid $108 to the Rock Island Arsenal for four 12-pound bronze mountain howitzers and placed them at the corners of the monument along with a few piles of cannonballs. Thieves took off with the cannons and cannonballs. The cannons were retrieved and placed in the Lisbon History Center. The cannonballs still are missing, but the concrete pads on which they sat are still visible near the monument.

The boulder stands in the Lisbon Cemetery under a brick and wood pergola constructed in 1938 to protect it from weather. It was the second and last boulder ever to be removed from Gettysburg. The first was acquired in 1915 for the West Philadelphia General Hospital of the U.S. Army, which later became the Satterlee General Hospital. The hospital cared for more than 20,000 sick and wounded soldiers during the Civil War.

After Lisbon’s boulder was taken from the battlefield, a federal law was passed that prevented any more rocks from being removed from the Gettysburg site.

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