Flags placed in Oak Hill Cemetery to honor black Civil War soldiers

Local

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WEHT)– Some are already homage to veterans laid to rest more than a hundred years ago in unmarked graves in Oak Hill Cemetery after fighting to end slavery. We don’t know the identity of most of these soldiers with exception of one, James Ambrose.

Ambrose was a slave who bought his freedom, moved to Australia, but returned around 1863. This was when President Abraham Lincoln officially invited African Americans to serve in the Union Army.

“This was the first official welcoming of black people into the union cause and into the union army. And they served with distinction,” said Dennis Au, retired historic preservation officer for the City of Evansville.

Although many of whom were called the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) at the time, were not recognized for playing a pivotal role in abolishing slavery.

“These were black lives that mattered during the civil war,” said Au.

Some of these soldiers, who passed away in Evansville years after the Civil War, were buried in unmarked graves in Oak Hill Cemetery, in an area where the poor were buried. Now some flags have been placed in “Potter’s Field” as some community members finally pay homage to the seemingly forgotten veterans who fought to abolish slavery.

“They fought side by side. They fought together to show some type of unity,” explained Reverend William Payne, community activist.

These Union soldiers never got to see or experience the end of segregation in Evansville.

“The tomb stone doesn’t tell you the true person, but the tomb stone does tell you the sacrifice that he gave,” said William VanHooks Junior, American Legion Otis Stone Post 354 District Chaplain.

Some people are hoping this brings awareness and unity during polarizing times.

“This is something we can talk about that can actually bridge the gap of the division we have in our community,” said Reverend Payne.

Historians say even more of these soldiers could be buried in Oak Hill Cemetery. They are working to find more information.

Nearly 25-years-ago, USCT Soldier James Ambrose was given a new tombstone which was donated by Newburgh Elementary students and staff. Even though there are no burial records for Ambrose and the other black Union soldiers, his old grave marker had a name which was still legible unlike the others.

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(This story was originally published on November 10, 2020)

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