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A Gravestone for Civil War Veteran Pvt. William Kolbow

Story by local Oak Creek author, Tom Mueller

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Descendants of Pvt. William Kolbow and members of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War dedicated his tombstone in 2017

Pvt. William Kolbow

An Oak Creek Civil War soldier now has received a gravestone, 132 years after his death. Pvt. William Kolbow died in a train accident in 1885 in Oak Creek and was buried at St. John Lutheran Cemetery at 27th Street and Oakwood Road. He was 38 and left a widow and eight children, the youngest being age 2, and never had a tombstone.


Fast-forward to 2016. The exact site of Kolbow’s grave at St. John’s had been long-forgotten.


His great-grandson is Elroy Honadel, one of the founders of the Oak Creek Historical Society. Elroy’s wife, Nancy, read Tom Mueller’s stories about Oak Creek in the Civil War (elsewhere on this website) and told him about Kolbow’s lost grave. Mueller is a fellow member of the Oak Creek group and an official of Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. An investigation by Mueller, Marge Berres of the Woman’s Relief Corps (also a society member) and her longtime cemetery research colleague Tom Ludka quickly found Kolbow’s grave after discussions with Pastor Dale Reckzin.


It was determined that in that era, the church buried people in the order they died, not in any family plots. Ludka and Berres found that the church members who died immediately before and after him had large gravestones; in between was a blank space that was one grave wide. Of great help in this was a translation of the church burial record, which was in German. This was done many years ago as a general project by the Oak Creek society. The discovery of the grave came within a few days of the 131st anniversary of Kolbow’s death on Aug. 7, 1885. Ludka and Berres ordered a government tombstone, which they installed in summer 2017. A few months later, the Sons held a dedication ceremony, attended by about 18 of Kolbow’s descendants, from multiple generations.


Not long before the dedication, a photo of the soldier was found deep within an old family album. It was framed and placed against his stone.After each shot by the Honor Guard, the church bell of St. John’s was tolled, making for quite a touching scene.


Kolbow was a private in the 28th Wisconsin Infantry, Co. K, enlisting at age 15. He served from August 21, 1862, to August 23, 1865. He had a farm along what is now South 13th Street, between Ryan Road and Puetz Road, when he was killed. The regiment fought mostly in Arkansas and Alabama. The 28th had 240 deaths in the war – one officer and 12 enlisted men killed in combat, and six officers and 221 enlisted by disease.

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