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Dozens commemorate new grave marker for Confederate veteran
Joplin Globe - 8/13/2017
Aug. 13--GALENA, Kan. -- Roughly two dozen people, many claiming a Confederate heritage, gathered Saturday morning to celebrate the placement of a headstone on the previously unmarked grave of a Civil War veteran in the Galena Cemetery.
Seen from just the right angle, the ceremony for John H. Leeman could have been taking place even before 1935, when the Confederate soldier -- later a town physician and constable -- died at 79. Descendants of Confederate soldiers, many wearing period uniforms or hoop skirts in a gesture toward the 19th century, traveled from as far as Republic and Fort Scott, Kansas, for the event.
The stone itself is a white marble monument topped with a carved Southern Cross of Honor, a military distinction given to Confederate veterans by the Daughters of the Confederacy.
Scott Sarley, 28, has made a project of identifying the unmarked graves of Civil War veterans and petitioning the U.S. Veterans Administration to provide a headstone. The federal government has provided funds to place headstones on the unmarked graves of American veterans since 1879.
"He was somebody's dad; he was somebody's brother," he said of Leeman. "It's part of our history."
Sarley, who claims ancestors in both the Union and Confederate armies, also plans to petition for markers on the graves of World War 1 veterans.
More than half of the graves in the Galena cemetery are unmarked, according to Patti Street of the Galena Archival Library. Leeman's grave was likely left unmarked for lack of funds.
Several members of Daughters of the Confederacy attended the ceremony, most of them affiliated with the Baxter Springs-based Cowskin Prairie chapter.
Mary Jane Parmela, of Columbus, one of the chapter's roughly 40 members, shielded herself from the sun with a black lace parasol as she listened to a speaker tracing the history of Leeman's regiment.
Parmela, an amateur genealogist, traced her family tree back to Confederate soldiers on her own, but she said she has always known that her family's sympathies lie with the South. When she gets together with cousins, she said they often discuss the condition of the deteriorating plantation buildings in North Carolina that are still owned by the family.
"I have no choice but to be Confederate," she said.
After an earlier news story about the dedication drew the ire of some online posters, who derided the Confederacy's defense of slavery, organizers worried that protesters would attend Saturday's event. None did.
However, the event took place in a climate of rising tensions over questions about monuments to Southern soldiers and the Confederacy's military and political leaders. On Saturday, a car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting a white supremacist rally in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, just after violent clashes broke out between white nationalists, who descended on the town to rally against the city's plans to remove a statue of the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and others who arrived to protest racism.
Sarley, for his part, said he plans to continue memorializing Civil War veterans. He is organizing another grave-marking ceremony in Sarcoxie in September.
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