Ceremony To Honor 12 Black Civil War-Era Soldiers
BLAIRSVILLE, Pa. (AP) – It’s been nearly 150 years since the 12 veterans of the United States Colored Troops now buried in the Blairsville Cemetery joined the Union forces to fight in the Civil War, but one group is working to make sure their sacrifices – and stories – are never forgotten.
Irving Lindsey and Nicolene Cravotta are coordinating with members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5281 and the American Legion Post 0407 to honor these veterans with a military funeral at 11 a.m. June 19 at the First United Presbyterian Church of Blairsville and a flag ceremony at 12:30 p.m. at the cemetery.
“This is something that needs to be done, because no veteran should be without recognition,’’ Cravotta said. “I think it’s important.’’
The project began much smaller. Cravotta, a retired English teacher and amateur historian, volunteered to work with the Pennsylvania USCT Hallowed Ground Project that would honor veterans across the state in November.
She knew of six gravesites at the cemetery, and that two had illegible grave markers and three had none. But while she was researching the cemetery for a different project, she found three more veterans of the United States Colored Troops; further searches brought the number to 12.
The June 19 ceremony will honor Lewis J. “L.J.’’ Bronson, a private in the cavalry; and infantry privates Charles Battles, Noah Bronson (or Brownson), Dennis Johnson, Samuel McClellen, James Patterson, John Patterson, Paul W. Patterson, Kane Ranson, William H. Robinson, John Yanall (or Yanelle) and Edward Yaw.
Various details of their lives are still remembered, some more than others. Lewis Bronson was a farmer, was born and died in Burrell Township. His apparent brother, Noah Bronson, was a coal miner and is remembered on the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. Dennis Johnson was promoted to corporal, then reduced in rank a few months later; he was a laborer but was left an invalid by the war. Ranson transferred to the Navy after a month in the infantry, and is listed as a reverend in the cemetery notes. Yaw was a barber.
But the most information is known about McClellen, whose injuries left him in a wheelchair. He was 18 years old when he enlisted in the infantry, and fought in South Carolina until he was injured. He was honorably discharged in May of 1865, and settled in Blairsville, where he married Nancy Johnston and raised two sons before she died. He and his second wife, Penelope Huell, had one child.
Injuries left McClellen unable to walk, and he drew an invalid pension in 1872. He became a barber and opened two new shops between 1873 and 1887. He was an active community member, a Republican, a ward representative in various elections and part of the Indiana Centennial Committee. In 1896 he was elected a vice president of the McKinley Club in Blairsville.
He died in 1913 in Blairsville.
“I like to look at history in terms of the humanity impact people made history,’’ Cravotta said. “It’s a fuzzy picture but it’s a picture of a person.’’
She is still looking for descendents of Battles, the Bronson brothers, Johnson, all three Pattersons, Ranson, Yanall (or Yanelle) and Yaw, as well as descendants of Oakland Cemetery veterans John Harvey and James Jackson.
She hopes to have “suitable’’ gravestones for all 12 sites in time for the Nov. 14 wreath laying at the state’s designated “hallowed grounds,’’ including the Blairsville Cemetery, for the Pennsylvania USCT Hallowed Ground Project.
The ceremonies of June 19 will begin at the First United Presbyterian Church, 137 N. Walnut St., at 11 a.m., then move to the Veterans’ Circle in the Blairsville Cemetery at 609 E. Market St. at 12:30 p.m.
“I think it’s going to be a good thing for the community,’’ Cravotta said.