Man on a mission to get recognition for slaves who fought for Union and were buried on Hilton Head

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HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. - For more than a century, the bodies of more than 300 black soldiers who died in the Civil War have lain in unmarked graves on the bank of Skull Creek harbor.

These former slaves who fled the plantations to fight for freedom on the side of the Union Army are unknown heroes that few people know about.

The small plot of land where they are buried is overshadowed by multimillion-dollar condos and a private marina - symbols of the transformation that has occurred in Hilton Head over the last 50 years, changing the island from a predominantly black town to a city of gated communities for the wealthy.

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 300 markers from the department, including one for his great-great grandfather, Caesar Kirk-Jones who died in 1903 at age 74.

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