Headstone Inscription Discovery

Here’s my latest satisfying genealogy  find about my husband Greg’s family:

We visit his family’s grave sites at the Mount Auburn Cemetery, McHenry County, Harvard IL.  His Grandfather always joked that he was “a Harvard Man” because he had grown up there before he moved away as an adult, and he is now buried there with his wife, father, and mother.

Greg’s Great Grandfather Luther Parker Mar. 4, 1836 – Mar. 24, 1885, served in the Civil War. He has two headstones. One has his dates and the inscription, “Co. E, 35 Wis. Inf.”  He signed up in Wisconsin, even though he lived in Northern Illinois.

His other headstone has a 4 line inscription on it that has been weathered so badly that only parts of words, and phrases were readable.  It had been readable 40 years ago, but the family had  no written record of it, and could not remember what it said.

I have been trying to decipher it for 5 years.  Rubbing chalk on it helped some, as did spraying water on it.  Taking photos of it and adjusting the editing with contrast and brightness also helped make some of the letters more comprehensible.

My greatest aid was going to see it this autumn after a week of rain and cloudy skies.  The headstone had absorbed a lot of moisture, and the letters and words were the most readable that I have seen.

I wrote down all that I could read, and took more photographs (which I enhanced.)  That gave me enough to search on-line by typing “headstone” and two of the key phrases which led me to “gravelyspeaking.com“.

Luther's Headstone 1Luther's Headstone 2

This is what I could read on the headstone:


“Sleep………ows no breaking”

“…ds……..no more”
“…nger, nights of waking”

I was very happy that I found the matching poem/prayer on “gravelyspeaking.com” for that time period.

The four lines, and all the words that I could read on his stone match the first four lines of this poem, from “The Lady of the Lake”;
“Soldier, Rest! Thy Warfare O’Er”, by Sir Walter Scott (1771 – 1832):

“Rest, soldier, rest, thy warfare o’er,
Sleep the sleep that knows no breaking,
Dream of battlefields no more,
Days of danger, nights of waking.”
This also matches Luther’s experience of fighting in the Civil War, and was probably a “popular” headstone inscription that reflected the Civil War veteran’s PTSD, which was known by other terms in other wars.

PSTD description from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH):

“What is Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

When in danger, it’s natural to feel afraid. This fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to prepare to defend against the danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a healthy reaction meant to protect a person from harm. But in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this reaction is changed or damaged. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they’re no longer in danger.

PTSD develops after a terrifying ordeal that involved physical harm or the threat of physical harm.

Signs & Symptoms

PTSD can cause many symptoms. These symptoms can be grouped into three categories:

1. Re-experiencing symptoms

  • Flashbacks—reliving the trauma over and over, including physical symptoms like a racing heart or sweating
  • Bad dreams
  • Frightening thoughts.

Re-experiencing symptoms may cause problems in a person’s everyday routine. They can start from the person’s own thoughts and feelings. Words, objects, or situations that are reminders of the event can also trigger re-experiencing.

2. Avoidance symptoms

  • Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the experience
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Feeling strong guilt, depression, or worry
  • Losing interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
  • Having trouble remembering the dangerous event.

Things that remind a person of the traumatic event can trigger avoidance symptoms. These symptoms may cause a person to change his or her personal routine. For example, after a bad car accident, a person who usually drives may avoid driving or riding in a car.

3. Hyperarousal symptoms

  • Being easily startled
  • Feeling tense or “on edge”
  • Having difficulty sleeping, and/or having angry outbursts.

Hyperarousal symptoms are usually constant, instead of being triggered by things that remind one of the traumatic event. They can make the person feel stressed and angry. These symptoms may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.”

Also see this article about PSTD in the Civil War and other wars from  “Smithsonian.com”.

Smithsonian Magazine
It shows why a prayer/poem such as this one would be a popular choice for headstone engraving in that era.
Here are a photograph and excerpts:
Civil War wounded
“The Civil War killed and injured over a million Americans, roughly a third of all those who served. This grim tally, however, doesn’t include the conflict’s psychic wounds. Military and medical officials in the 1860s had little grasp of how war can scar minds as well as bodies. Mental ills were also a source of shame, especially for soldiers bred on Victorian notions of manliness and courage.” …
“The vast majority of soldiers, he adds, weren’t traumatized and went on to have productive postwar lives.”
I do not know if Luther Parker was physically injured during his Civil War Service.  The choice of this prayer/poem for his headstone shows that he probably had some of the PSTD symptoms, and that his family suffered along with him.

The family is looking into having the inscription recreated on a metal plaque which can be fitted onto Luther’s headstone.


There are a lot of clues that can help us learn more about what our ancestors’ lives were like.  I feel like I know Luther and his family better now after weaving together these clues.





3 thoughts on “Headstone Inscription Discovery”

  1. Oh, WOW! WOW! Vicki! Thank you for such a detailed sleuthing because you have inspired me for a headstone of my 3G Grandparents, buried in Arena Cemetery, Arena, WI. I went there (2 hrs away) in OCT and took lots of pics. There is the same font writing on Olive’s – obviously not same poem! 3G Gpa Jacob Dodge died in 1860, but I can’t read hers. I didn’t realize also that the more rain, the better the words could possibly be readable! Really need to trip up there next summer to take a couple better pics closeup, clean properly and then spray with water, etc. !!

    And thank you for the website, http://www.gravelyspeaking.com!!!! If you’ve mentioned it before, it has slipped my mind. 😦

    Saving this to my Genealogy file as I do most of the others you send that I can refer to. P ~


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