Blairsville rededication gives 12 black Civil War soldiers a day in sun.


Verified Estrogen Brigade
Aug 25, 2006
In contrast to some of the things going on at the Arlington National Cemetary, I thought this was a nice story to share.


While history is not her favorite subject, 12-year-old Jasmine Kendall made some Saturday.

She accepted an American flag on behalf of her great-grandfather, Samuel McClellen, at a "rededication" service for him and 11 other black soldiers. The dozen soldiers, who served in the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War, all lived or worked in the Blairsville area and are buried in a cemetery in the Indiana County community.

They were among more than 180,000 African-American soldiers who fought for the Union. At least a half-dozen of their descendents and others honored them during ceremonies that began at Blairsville's First United Presbyterian Church.

"We look back so that we can look forward with more vision," the Rev. Timothy Monroe, the church pastor, said in his invocation. The service drew about 120 people, many dressed in Civil War-era clothing, including tall hats for the men and straw bonnets for the women.

Women from the choir of Blairsville's Second Baptist Church also performed gospel selections. "Alleluia ... Praise the Lord ... I'm free," they sang, as members of the congregation clapped in rhythm.

Later, about 100 people gathered a half-mile away at Veterans Circle in Blairsville Cemetery. Among them was Abraham Lincoln re-enactor Ralph Lincoln, of Berlin, Somerset County, who said he is a distant cousin of the 16th president.

Like other veterans, the United States Colored Troops "fought for liberty, freedom and unity," he told the crowd. Dressed in a long dark coat and tie and wearing a stovepipe hat, Mr. Lincoln strongly resembled Honest Abe.

Retired military personnel and others, all wearing white gloves, presented U.S. flags to representatives for each soldier. Flag recipients included soldiers' descendants, re-enactors and political leaders.

As a member of the Blairsville Underground Railroad Project, Seth Gibson, of Blairsville, Mr. Gibson portrays Louis Johnson, one of the black "conductors" who helped escaped slaves flee north before the Civil War. He was presented with a flag "on behalf of a grateful nation" for John Vanall, a private in the USCT's 127th Regiment.

"I felt obliged to be here to pay our respects to our fallen heroes," he said.

Jasmine, who lives in Blairsville and will enter seventh grade in the fall, said she didn't know much about her ancestor, who operated two barbershops in Blairsville. She said she did have a table in her bedroom that her great-grandfather had used at one of his businesses.

Saturday's program was coordinated by local history buffs Irving Lindsey and Nicolene Cravotta. Among those supporting the efforts were the borough's American Legion Post 0407 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5821.

Some in the community knew that six black Civil War soldiers were buried in the graveyard, Ms. Cravotta said. By the early 21st century, however, only two of their graves were marked. Further research turned up evidence that another six African-American soldiers were interred there.

Saturday's event will be followed on Nov. 14 with "Hallowed Ground" wreath-layings at Blairsville and many other Pennsylvania cemeteries where black Civil War soldiers are buried.

Event organizers hope to obtain new markers to replace those that are missing or unreadable in time for that event, Ms. Cravotta said.