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Three Civil War veterans reburied with full military honors

Written by Rachel McDevitt/Radio Pennsylvania | Nov 18, 2016 12:42 PM
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Photo by Rachel McDevitt/Radio PA

(Annville) -- The remains of three African American Civil War veterans have been laid to rest in Lebanon County.

They were recently removed from an overgrown and mostly forgotten cemetery near Carlisle and buried earlier this week in Indiantown Gap National Cemetery.

Greenberry Stanton, William Anderson, and John Nelson served as part of the first regiments of colored troops to serve in the Civil War.

Stanton and Nelson were Privates in the Massachusetts Cavalry. Anderson served as a Corporal in the Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

All three spent 130 years in a small cemetery in Cumberland County. It sat on private property, and over the years was forgotten. That changed when a Boy Scout cleaned it up for a service project and discovered the role these three veterans played in history.

Joe Zellner, who travelled to the ceremony as part of the 54th Massachusetts Company A Volunteer Regiment re-enactors, told the story of how the soldiers came to serve:

"In 1863 Frederick Douglass, a self-emancipated man and an abolitionist, offered and challenged the nation, reminding them that Massachusetts was the first state to break the chains of bondage on people of color."

Zellner said the three men rose to the challenge to fight for the freedom of their peers.

Speaking on behalf of the Pennsylvania National Guard, Colonel Michael Regan praised the men for fighting, not for immediate gratification, but for future generations.

"Today we meet here, on this hallowed ground; not only to honor the memory of these three men who fought for our nation, but to welcome them to their rightful resting place here, side-by-side, among their fellow soldiers," Col. Regan said. "While segregation was the norm during that time, it is our genuine hope that future generations remember today as an attempt to right a wrong done to our fellow brothers-in-arms so many years ago."

Stanton, Anderson, and Nelson are the first Civil War veterans to be interred at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, which opened in 1982, but they won't be treated as strangers here.

Rev. Walt Dockins offered the prayer at the burial service. He likened the veterans' arrival to soldiers who, after living in tents while fighting an enemy far from home, finally get to leave the battlefield.

"Today, after all these years of traveling from place to place, they get to finally go home. So today I salute them and say, welcome home. You have served your family. You have served your community. You have served your country. And you have served your god, your great commander."

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Photo by Rachel McDevitt/Radio PA

After the 21-gun salute was fired, and a lonely bugle played Taps, members of the honor guard slowly folded the flags that covered the three caskets. Each was handed to an officer, who in turn presented the banner to a representative of each fallen soldier with a somber salute.

First in line was a small woman dressed in a full, dark, frock reminiscent of the Civil War. Dr. Beverly Stanton of Gettysburg is a several-times great granddaughter of Greenberry Stanton. Beverly Stanton tracked her family's genealogy as far as she could, and never expected this discovery to come out of the blue.

"This is the reason--when I talk to people and the people are talking about election yes, election no--I think this is what makes America great. The fact that on a small area, on a small farm owned by different people for different people for different generations, that they would care enough to even honor the space."

Stanton called the experience overwhelming, and expressed how very grateful she is to the private landowners, the funeral home, and the people at Indiantown Gap who made this reburial possible.

"They told me that they were going to have a little something," Stanton said, "but this goes--this is way beyond the realm, and it makes me honored to be able to be a descendent of that family."

As the crowd cleared and the veterans were taken to their final resting place, a gentle rain started to fall; perhaps a symbol not of new life, but of a new-found recognition of the men who fought against the evil of slavery and can now rest in peace.

 

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