On December 28, 2002, members of five camps of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans and a Louisiana re-enactor group, and other volunteers worked all day to exhume the remains of two soldiers that served in the U.S. Colored Infantry. The two men were Jackson Ross, Co. I 47 U.S. Colored Infantry and Wesley Gilbert, Co. E 52 U.S. Colored Infantry. The remains were placed in handmade coffins and stored at a funeral home.
On February 21, 2003 the coffins were placed in the Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, located on the park grounds. Battery L, 2nd U.S. Artillery stood guard through the night.
On February 22, 2003, the weather was dreary and cold with the rain drizzling. People continued to come in as they would for a modern day funeral, the rain and muddy slopes did not keep them from attending. The ceremony began with the Port Gibson Heritage Singers singing old songs, no musical instruments, just the beautiful voices of this local group. As they were singing, the handmade coffins were loaded onto the horse drawn caissons for the processional up the long hill from the Church to the cemetery. The coffins were carried to the burial site by men in gray and blue uniforms. In the procession was a piper, Page Brooks, Color Guards of the Port Gibson High School Army JROTC, 18th Indiana Light Artillery, Mississippi Division Sons of Confederate Veterans Jeff Davis Legion, Third Brigade Mississippi Division Sons of Confederate Veterans, Stockdale Rangers, Brookhaven Light Artillery, Col. Moses Jackson, and B.G. William T. Martin Camps. the horse drawn caissons of the 18th Indiana Light Artillery, and Uniformed Troops Representing all organizations and re-enactors.
Reverend Stan Copeland, Chaplain, Major, United States Army (Ret.), led the opening prayer followed by the singing of the National Anthem sung by Ms. Carolyn Hall of Port Gibson. The crowd remained quiet during Raising the Colors, and joined in the Pledges and Salutes to the Colors. Ed Funchess, Adjutant, Stockdale's Rangers 4th Mississippi Calvary, SCV, McComb, Mississippi, gave the memorial address. Mr. Funchess said "The exact time and circumstances of their deaths is not known." Commander Kent Oestenstad, Union Troops and Sons of Union Veterans along with Rev. Copeland performed the Graveside Service followed by piper Page Brooks playing "Amazing Grace".
Once the piper stopped, there was silence, then the salutes by massed Union and Confederate Infantry, Battery L, 2nd U.S. Artillery, Stanford's Mississippi Battery, and Turner's Battery, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery. The salutes rang throughout the woods and echoed to the Mississippi River, the crowd not knowing if it touched their heart that much or the roar caused their hearts to flutter. After the final shot, Taps was played by Jennifer Hughes of McComb, Mississippi and the funeral ended with prayer by Rev. Copeland.
Although no descendants of Gilbert or Ross could be found, re-enactors from Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and surrounding states crowded to pay their respects. The crowd came despite the weather, many slid and had mud from head to toe, but this did not stop them from staying to the end. Comments were made about how moving this ceremony was. Yes, it was just another funeral, but was it? This was to honor two soldiers that died during a time in our history when our country was divided, a time then brother fought brother, North fought South. Then this funeral of these two men that fought with the U.S. Colored Troops took place around 140 years after they were placed in the ground the first time, giving honor to them by the descendants of those that fought each other. Just another funeral? You decide.
If we left out anyone, it was not intentional, just an honest mistake. It is amazing how people pulled together to honor these men, no expense to the State of Mississippi, just volunteers doing what was right.