North meets South for reinterment

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 23, 2003

On Saturday, for the second time in history, North met South at Grand Gulf &045; only this time, it was to pay respects to two Union soldiers in a show of unity. The occasion was the reinterment of Wesley Gilbert and Jackson Ross, members of the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War, whose graves at Grand Gulf Military Park had been eroding until war reenactors took action.

In August, Ed Funchess of the Stockdale Rangers Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp in McComb saw an article on the problem in the &uot;Today in Mississippi&uot; publication.

Funchess figured a reinterment, including an authentic funeral service and a graveside ceremony, was the least he and other veterans could do.

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&uot;They’re Americans regardless of whether they were Union soldiers or Confederate soldiers,&uot; he said. &uot;We need to recognize their service as Americans, to try to do it the right way &045; to give them a service with dignity.&uot;

Although no descendants of Gilbert or Ross could be found, reenactors from Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and surrounding states crowded to the graveside to pay their respects.

The U.S. Colored Troops gave their all for their country, with one out of three suffering casualties during the war, compared to one out of four for Civil War troops as a whole, Funchess said.

For doing their duty as soldiers and making the ultimate sacrifice, &uot;they are deeply respected by all Americans,&uot; said Stan Copeland of Pensacola, Fla., a retired Army chaplain who presided over the service at the park’s chapel.

And for those sacrifices, they received a graveside service that included not only hymns from the Port Gibson Heritage Singers and the presentation of arms, but a 21-gun salute and the firing of cannons.

The ceremony was a moving one for Capt. Kent Oustinstad of Birmingham, a reenactor from the 1st Indiana Light Artillery.

&uot;I have a strong feeling about the Civil War and its importance in American history,&uot; he said.

&uot;Any time you get a chance to honor those who fought for either side, you should do it &045; especially for the Colored Troops, because they had their cause to fight for.&uot;

&uot;Men on both sides, Union and Confederate, should be honored for their bravery and courage,&uot; said David Horn of Houston, also of the 1st Indiana Light Artillery.

So despite the wind, rain and mud, the reenactors and other visitors marched up the park’s hill to lay Gilbert and Ross to rest once again, with honors.

&uot;They fought in this weather, so it’s only right that we honor them in this weather,&uot; said Faye Cochran of Jackson, whose boyfriend, Michael Croy, was one of the Union reenactors.