UNITED STATES NEWS

Black soldiers are honored, name by name, at a Civil War battlefield

Feb 29, 2024, 8:47 AM | Updated: 9:46 am

Vicksburg National Military Park Chief of Interpretation Brendan Wilson, left, conducts a ceremony ...

Vicksburg National Military Park Chief of Interpretation Brendan Wilson, left, conducts a ceremony of remembrance with two Civil War reenactors and Thelma Sims Dukes, center, and her niece Sara Sims at the burial site of 13 soldiers of the United States 1st Mississippi Infantry (African Descent) on Feb. 14, 2024, at Vicksburg National Cemetery in Vicksburg, Miss. The flags were placed at the graves of Black soldiers killed in an 1864 massacre at Ross Landing, Arkansas, who were buried as unknowns but have recently been identified. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) — Thelma Sims Dukes grew up during the 1940s and ‘50s in a segregated Mississippi town steeped in Civil War history.

As a small Black girl, she would walk to school through Vicksburg National Military Park — the hilly battlefield where Union and Confederate soldiers fought and died over whether the U.S. would continue allowing slavery in the South.

Union forces won a pivotal campaign to capture the town of Vicksburg and gain control of the Mississippi River in 1863, hastening the war’s end. But during Dukes’ childhood, Vicksburg venerated the Confederacy and ignored the history of Black soldiers who fought for the Union, including her great-great grandfather, William “Bill” Sims.

“The superintendents and the museum curators — they said we didn’t fight in the Civil War,” Dukes said recently.

The Black soldiers’ valor and service to the country is no longer ignored, thanks to the efforts of historians, park employees and citizens like Dukes. On crisp morning in mid-February, Dukes and her niece, Sara Sims, and four park employees — two of them Black men wearing reproductions of U.S. Army uniforms from the Civil War — placed American flags on 13 graves where a group of recently identified Black soldiers are buried in Vicksburg National Cemetery, which is part of the military park.

A historian working for the military park, Beth Kruse, identified the soldiers through research of military records, newspapers and other sources. Their remains lie beneath white marble headstones carved with numbers rather than names, as are most veterans buried in the cemetery.

In recent years, the National Park Service has broadened how it presents history in parks nationwide. In the Vicksburg military park, which is dotted with more than 1,400 monuments, markers and tablets and is one of the largest tourist attractions in Mississippi, drawing visitors from around the globe, the visitor center now includes information about Black history, and a monument to Black soldiers was dedicated 20 years ago.

Sunlight dappled the graves under a towering magnolia tree during the flag-planting ceremony on Feb. 14. Dukes said the men and other Black Union soldiers were “freedom fighters,” not only for themselves but for all Americans.

“They are not unknowns anymore,” she said. “This is a start. This is good. Let’s put history right.”

The newly identified soldiers had enlisted in the Vicksburg-based 1st Mississippi Infantry (African Descent) as the town was under federal occupation. In early 1864, 18 soldiers and two white officers traveled by boat some 95 miles (153 kilometers) north along the Mississippi River to Chicot County, Arkansas, to forage for crops to feed people and horses.

On Feb. 14, 1864, at Ross Landing near the town of Lake Village, irregular Confederate troops from Missouri shot the Union soldiers and officers, killing most and leaving some for dead. They used the Union soldiers’ own bayonets to impale the dead and wounded, pinning them to the ground, according to research by Kruse.

Brendan Wilson, chief of interpretation, education and partnerships for Vicksburg National Military Park, said on the 160th anniversary of the gruesome day in Ross Landing that it’s still not known which of the 13 Black soldiers from that massacre is in which specific grave. Records show where the group is buried.

“And now we have their names and can bring those names back to life,” Wilson said.

Kruse is working in Vicksburg through the National Park Service’s Mellon Humanities Postdoctoral Fellows program. She said at least 11 soldiers of the 1st Mississippi Infantry (African Descent) were previously enslaved on southern plantations.

“For these soldiers, it was not abstract ideology,” she said. “They knew what it was to be unfree.”

Vicksburg National Cemetery was established in 1866 and now holds more than 18,000 graves — veterans from six wars and a few former park employees. More than 17,000 of them fought for the Union in the Civil War, including more than 5,500 Black soldiers, designated by the U.S. War Department in 1863 as United States Colored Troops.

Vicksburg is the largest cemetery for Union soldiers and sailors, its dead brought from Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and other states. Nearly 13,000 are buried as unknown.

About 5,000 Confederate soldiers are buried in a city cemetery in Vicksburg, outside the military park.

Some 80 years after the Civil War ended, Dukes’ father worked in maintenance at the national military park. She said she has always thought the landscape of the former battlefield is beautiful, but when she was young she never saw any of the history there as relevant to the Black community.

“All I know is that the South lost. OK, I did know that,” Dukes said. “But none of the battles like we are learning now. I didn’t feel like it was any connection to Blacks.”

In 2004, Vicksburg National Military Park dedicated a monument honoring the Black soldiers who fought in the Vicksburg Campaign. The troops were pivotal in a Union victory at Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana, along the Mississippi River north of Vicksburg, in June 1863. Robert Major Walker, a historian elected as Vicksburg’s first Black mayor in 1988, proposed the monument in 1999 after spending years doing research and securing money for it.

“Something had to be done to show the involvement of Black folk in the Civil War,” Walker said recently. “So much positive had been left out of the books of history. Everybody needed to know the truth.”

Dukes, whose whose great-great grandfather fought at Milliken’s Bend and survived the war, criticizes efforts by some Republican governors, including Florida’s Ron DeSantis and Mississippi’s Tate Reeves, to limit the teaching about slavery and other difficult aspects of U.S. history.

“And I don’t see why the majority of people in America don’t say, ‘No, you can’t do that. Let’s tell it all,'” Dukes said.

Three days after placing American flags in the cemetery, Dukes joined others inside the military park’s visitor center for a libation ceremony, a traditional African religious ritual, to pay tribute to the 20 men killed or wounded at Ross Landing.

Albert Dorsey Jr., a history professor from Jackson State University, read the name of each man — Black and white — as he poured water into a pot of soil and grass, a small chunk of Earth brought indoors for the chilly day:

Pvt. Henry Berry, Pvt. Calvin Cathron, 1st Lt. Thaddeus Cock, Pvt. Howard Dixon, Corp. Fleming Epps, Pvt. Ruffian Epps, Corp. Peter Everman, Pvt. Charles Farrar, Pvt. Henry Ford, Pvt. John Genefa, Pvt. Anthony Givens, Pvt. Richard James, Sgt. Tony McGee, Sgt. Noah Powell, Pvt. Thomas Ransom, 1st Sgt. James Spencer, Pvt. Isaac Stanton, Pvt. Isom Taylor, Corp. Nelson Walker, Pvt. James H. Boldin.

After each name, the audience of about 50 people responded: “Asé,” pronounced ah-SHAY, a word from the Yoruba language spoken in parts of western Africa. It is similar to “Amen,” an affirmation of a life force.

The 13 Black men killed in the massacre were initially buried at Ross Landing, and later interred in the cemetery as unknowns. Three more were wounded and died during or shortly after the Civil War, and also were buried as unknowns. Two others survived until 1918. The two white officers’ bodies had been identified and sent home to Ohio and Indiana for burial during the war.

Kruse told told the audience that the Black men who joined the Union Army were “not groveling for inclusion” but actively chose to fight.

“As President Lincoln remarked of the Gettysburg dead,” Kruse said, “we, too, can recognize the men who lay in the hallowed grounds of the Vicksburg National Cemetery, and never forget what they did for freedom.”

United States News

Associated Press

Former Wisconsin college chancellor fired over porn career is fighting to keep his faculty post

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse’s top official has taken the first steps toward removing a faculty member who was earlier fired from his job as chancellor over his fledgling porn career. The former chancellor, Joe Gow, said Wednesday that interim Chancellor Betsy Morgan filed three charges against him March 29, accusing […]

34 minutes ago

Associated Press

Jury sides with school system in suit accusing it of ignoring middle-schooler’s sex assault claims

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A jury on Wednesday rejected a woman’s lawsuit seeking tens of millions of dollars from Virginia’s largest school system over allegations that she was raped multiple times as a middle schooler. The woman, who was identified in court papers only by her initials, sued Fairfax County Public Schools under Title IX, […]

44 minutes ago

Associated Press

US Rep. Donald Payne Jr., a Democrat from New Jersey, has died at 65 after a heart attack

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr., of New Jersey, died Wednesday after a heart attack this month that left him hospitalized, officials said. He was 65. In a statement, Gov. Phil Murphy called his fellow Democrat a “steadfast champion for the people of New Jersey.” “With his signature bowtie, big heart, and […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Grand jury indicts man for murder in shooting death of Texas girl during ATM robbery

HOUSTON (AP) — A man accused of fatally shooting a 9-year-old girl when he was robbed at a Houston ATM in 2022 has been indicted for murder in her death. Tuesday’s indictment against Tony Earls comes nearly two years after another grand jury had declined to indict him in the death of Arlene Alvarez. “We […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Ukraine uses long-range missiles secretly provided by US to hit Russian-held areas, officials say

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ukraine for the first time has begun using long-range ballistic missiles provided secretly by the United States, bombing a Russian military airfield in Crimea last week and Russian forces in another occupied area overnight, American officials said Wednesday. Long sought by Ukrainian leaders, the new missiles give Ukraine nearly double the striking […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Guard kills Georgia inmate at hospital after he overpowered other officer, investigators say

SANDERSVILLE, Ga. (AP) — A Georgia prison guard shot and killed a prisoner she had helped escort to a hospital for treatment after he snatched another guard’s pepper spray and used it to overpower him, authorities said Wednesday. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said its agents are investigating the late Tuesday shooting at Washington County […]

3 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 

Black soldiers are honored, name by name, at a Civil War battlefield