Three Central Pa. African-American Civil War veterans given proper burial

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They were American patriots at a time when many of their peers were still slaves.

On Wednesday, 130 years after they died and were buried on a private plot of land in Cumberland County, three African-American veterans of the Civil War were paid long overdue proper respects.

Corporal William Anderson, Private Greenberry Stanton, and Private John Nelson, all natives of Penn Township near Newville, were relocated and buried at the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in Lebanon County, in front of over 100 military veterans, current soldiers, Civil War reenactors, members of the public, and one distant descendant.

Beverly A. Stanton, of Gettysburg, is the great-granddaughter, five generations removed, from Greenberry Stanton.

"I can't describe the tears I cried when I realized we found them," she said.

Stanton was a late-arrival to the ceremony Wednesday at the trio's original burial site, in the private backyard of homeowner Dan Ries.

Ries had learned about the graves years ago, when his father-in-law, Lowell Hassinger, would walk onto the field and leave ribbons and flags in the ground. While their family paid their respects, some neighbors felt differently.

"(They) weren't too thrilled that African-American graves would get honor and attention here," Ries said.

Out of concern for the graves' safe-keeping, Ries and Hassinger contacted the Penn Township office, where he found two allies in Gary Martin, a veteran and the chairman of the Penn Township board of supervisors, and another township supervisor, Ken Sheaffer.

Eventually, the groups worked together to exhume the veterans' bodies, place them in new caskets, and on Wednesday, moved to the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery for a full, military funeral.

Beverly Stanton said she learned her of ancestor last Friday, on Veterans' Day. Most of the family, she says, now lives in Texas. Stanton, who was a surprise guest and was not originally on the list of speakers, spoke emotionally to the dozens of people at the ceremony on the Ries backyard.

"Someone took the time to bury them, and honor them, even on this particular site," she said, sobbing. "When I got off the bus and I saw all these people to honor these soldiers, I can't even imagine what the people of their time would have thought."

By the time the ceremony made its way to Fort Indiantown Gap, the dozens who came to pay their respects turned into over 100, ranging from current military, veterans, Civil War reenactors and members of the public. Military members walked each casket through a processional of American flags. They were given a military funeral with full honor guard detail, which included a 21-gun salute and a bugler playing taps.

At its conclusion, Stanton broke down in tears when she was presented with a folded American flag.

Earlier in the day, Beverly Stanton was in a moment of disbelief. "I told my family, 'I'll represent you'," Stanton said. "They said, 'Can you believe he was found?"

At that point, recalling a previous conversation but still in shock, Stanton dropped her jaw, and shook her head side-to-side. In answering her relative's question, she simply said, "No."