A legacy left unmarked for black Civil War vets

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For more than a century, the bodies of some 300 black soldiers who died in the Civil War have lain in unmarked graves on the bank of Skull Creek harbor in South Carolina. But for Howard Wright, 57, the great-great grandson of a former slave who fought in the war, Talbird Cemetery is part of his family's heritage and, he said, an integral part of American history that should not be forgotten.

So he has set out on a mission to get the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide headstones for the more than 3,000 blacks in South Carolina who served in what was called the U.S. Colored Troops. In recent months, he has received about 100 markers from the department, including one for his great-great grandfather, Caesar Kirk-Jones, who died in 1903 at age 74.

'History has been rewritten when it comes to the legacy of the Colored Troops,' said Wright, a historian who founded the Sankofa Restoration Project. 'They had more at stake than anyone else and they turned around the destiny of this country.'

Wright has spent 25 years researching the histories of the men buried at Talbird Cemetery as well as more than 1,000 other black Civil War soldiers at some 100 similar small cemeteries in Beaufort County, S.C. Wright is also trying to get new headstones for several of the 1,000 soldiers in Beaufort National Cemetery whose markers are inaccurate or damaged.

For the descendants, to have relatives who died fighting in a war that ended slavery is an honor they speak of with pride.

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