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Union Soldiers laid to rest again in solemn ceremony

PORT GIBSON — Inclement weather did not prevent a large crowdfrom gathering Saturday at Grand Gulf Military Park to witness thereburial of two black Union soldiers whose remains were saved fromwashing away.

Despite a rainy deluge on Friday that turned the cemetery into aslippery quagmire of mud and clay, Union and Confederate reenactorsand spectators braved another dreary day to watch the soldiers belaid to rest for the second time.

As a fine, wet mist settled on those gathered and wind gustedthrough the stately hardwoods, Ed Funchess, adjutant of McComb’sStockdale Rangers and an organizer for the project, praised thevast interest the project has generated and asked everyone presentto look around them at those gathered.

“If Jackson Ross and Wesley Gilbert could awaken from thissleep, walk among us, consider this ceremony, and witness thewatch, care and honor bestowed upon them by the ancestors of theirformer enemy, the brotherhood of their fellow soldiers and theirbrothers and sisters gathered here today; I believe they would becompelled to say, ‘Our sacrifice on the long journey to freedom wasworth it all. Let us rest now. We are home – finally home,'”Funchess said.

The burial of Ross and Gilbert is more than a burial ofsoldiers, Funchess said. It is a reflection on how the nation hasreceived their vision.

“As we are gathered here and look upon this multitude of flags,we pause to reflect on what they represent,” he said. “The loftyvirtues of valor, honor, loyalty, sacrifice and patriotism remindus of our heritage and our history. As we consider theseattributes, it is important to be mindful that, as we gaze uponthese unfurled banners, that the ideals they represent do notreside in pieces of cloth, but rather in our hearts, as humanbeings, as Americans.”

The remains of Jackson Ross, a private of Company I, 47th U.S.Colored Infantry, and Wesley Gilbert, a private of Company E, 51stU.S. Colored Infantry, were in danger of being carried away by awashout in the park cemetery before the Third Brigade of the Sonsof Confederate Veterans stepped in to organize their rescue.

The two soldiers were exhumed by the Third Brigade Dec. 28 andlaid to rest for the second time Saturday during a Civil War eramilitary service.

The coffins of the men contained their remains and all artifactsdiscovered within the graves during the disinterment in lateDecember. Items found in the graves included bones, a few buttonsand other small scraps of uniforms and the casket handles. Thecoffins being used were constructed according to militaryspecifications at the time of the two men’s first burial.

“We couldn’t find Gilbert’s remains, but he was still honoredand reinterred,” Funchess said. “We believe we were too late tosave him.”

Some memorial dirt from where he was believed to have been laidto rest was placed inside his coffin.

The project of saving the two graves was proposed to Bud Ross,the park’s director, after members of the SCV heard of their peril.The SCV is funding the entire project.

SCV chapters in the Third Brigade participating in the projectwere the Stockdale Rangers of McComb, Brookhaven Light Artillery,BGen. William T. Martin Chapter 590 of Natchez, 22nd LouisianaVolunteers and the Gainesville Volunteers of Picayune.