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Re-enactment groups perform funeral

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By The Staff

It is Saturday evening and I am sitting here reliving the events of earlier today.

Amidst the tombstones in Liberty Cemetery near Bingham, the honor guard from Ramsey’s American Legion Post #460, along with members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, 22nd North Carolina Infantry and 15th Northwest Arkansas re-enactment groups, stood at attention, their muskets and rifles in mourn position.

As Mark Ellis of Salem began to play "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes, Sharon Red, portraying the Confederate widow of Nelson Alexander Eller, was escorted to the headstone, draped in black. Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans escorted Sharon Jorandby, Kati Long and Connie Bolyard, also portraying Confederate widows.

When the "widows" were in place, the American Legion posted the American flag, joining an array of 14 state flags from the South, including Pvt. Eller’s home state of North Carolina.

The Legionnaires formed a line to the left of the grave. Next, re-enactors of the 22nd North Carolina Regiment, "McDowell’s Rifles" and a contingent from the 15th Northwest Arkansas formed a line to the right and behind the grave. The cannon crew also took their positions with a six-pound light artillery cannon.

When the participants were in their place, Adjutant Gale Red of Lt. George E. Dixon Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), approached the podium to welcome the crowd, estimated at 100. This group, along with the Fayette County Genealogical and Historical Society, co-sponsored the event.

As one of the event organizers, I was asked to add my welcomes to those of Mr. Red. It was Gale who told me that these Southern veterans, now numbering 17 in Fayette County, are found "when they are ready." Ten short years ago, we had identified only four.

Upon learning from my friend, Brian Garner, that soldiers from the 22nd North Carolina re-enactment group would be among the honor guard at the rededication ceremony for Nelson Eller, I immediately telephoned Adjutant Red. "Doesn’t it just feel right?" I asked.

Nelson Eller was 19 years old when he enlisted in Co. K, 4th North Carolina Infantry. Of his four years in service, three were spent in northern prisoner of war camps.

There was much symbolism in the memorial tokens presented at the rededication ceremony. A sheathed sword, symbolizing the pledge that we “may never have to raise our swords in anger against our brothers or neighbors again,” was an original Confederate sword, provided by a local man, Dale Reeves.

Children of the Eller family came forward to place small confederate flags on the grave in honor of their heritage. Great-granddaughters Lynn Eller Abernathy and Earlene Eller Leas, both took part in the ceremony, with Mrs. Leas being presented with a folded Confederate flag. Another tribute the family was asked to participate in was the sprinkling of soil obtained from North Carolina on the grave to symbolically reunite the veteran with his native state once more.

An evergreen bough was then laid on the grave by Morgan Benjamin, of Col. George Dixon Camp, SCV, to represent the everlasting love and respect of the veteran by his comrades and men who are left to remember him.

Commander Don Brown of the 22nd North Carolina approached the grave offering a floral memorial tribute in recognition of their North Carolina brother. He then executed a sharp salute and turnabout.

On order, the honor guard from Anderson-Scroggins American Legion fired three volleys from their M-1 rifles, followed by three volleys from a six-man musket team made up of re-enactors and SCV members.

The four-man cannon crew prepared their cannon and BOOM! – the ground shook and the cannon recoiled backward from the percussion, spitting flame and surrounding the crew in a haze of smoke.

The cannon crew then loaded the second and third charges. A crewman plunged the tamper into the cannon barrel and BOOM! – the ground shook and smoke and fire once more emitted from the barrel. It was an experience.

Local ministers, the Rev. Ernest Flowers and Pastor Harry Kirk, along with the chaplain of the American Legion, participated in the event.

The “Roll Call of Honor,” containing the names of the 17 known Southern veterans buried in Fayette County, was presented by Adjutant Red, with a respondent replying "present on the field of honor."

The organizers were especially honored that four of the Confederate veterans were represented by a descendant. These included: Corp. John R. Bullington, Co. K, 38th Virginia Infantry, by Barry Bullington of Mattoon; Pvt. Nelson A. Eller, Co. K, 4th North Carolina Infantry, by Scott Leas of Fairview Heights; Pvt. Haroldson Lafayette Hunt, Co. I, 27th Arkansas Infantry by Suzanne Bandy of Ramsey; and Pvt. William Jones Wall, Co. E, 57th Virginia Infantry by Charlie and Linda Townsend, Vandalia.

To answer for the remaining 13 veterans, representatives were chosen from among those present at the ceremony. These included: Richard Cole, Ramsey, for Pvt. Joseph Pinkney Barkley, Co. B, 2nd North Carolina Cavalry; Don Brown, commander 22nd North Carolina Regiment, for Pvt. Martin Dempsey Cavin, Co. I, 7th North Carolina Infantry; Zeke Philpot, Vandalia, for Col. William Fortune, 1st Northeast Missouri Cavalry; Bill Oliver, Vandalia, for Capt. Franklin J. Guy, Co. D, 4th North Carolina Infantry; Linda Harris, Ramsey, for Pvt. James M. Hunt, Co. F, 7th Arkansas Infantry; Thelma Bresee, Vandalia, for Pvt. Samuel Francis Lipsey, Co. B, 15th Texas Cavalry; Pastor Harry Kirk, Bingham, for Pvt. Isaac McManimie, Co. H, 17th Arkansas Infantry; Kevin Kaegy, Greenville, for Pvt. William Allen Mills, Co. G, 21st Virginia Cavalry; Gary Forbus, Fillmore, for Pvt. James J. Moore, Co. D, 3rd Missouri Infantry and Co. H, 6th Missouri Infantry; Ben O. Davidson, Bingham, for Pvt. David Sidwell, Co. C, 28th Tennessee Infantry; the Rev. Ernest Flowers, Vandalia, for Gustav Stahl, blockade runner at Vicksburg; Ethan Hanabarger, Ramsey, for Sgt. Marion Morrison Weatherly, Co. H, Gordon’s Regt., Arkansas Cavalry; and Jerry Jones, for the unknown soldier buried in the Old State Burial Ground in Vandalia.

Connie Bolyard and Linda Hanabarger sang "Amazing Grace" to a mandolin accompaniment. The program closed with a bugler playing taps, followed by Mark Ellis on bagpipes. As the last note from his bagpipes faded away, as if on cue, a light rain began to fall.

Dee Filer and Carolyn Calvert of the Fayette County Society, along with the Fillmore Historical Society, hosted a reception at Liberty Church. Dale Reeves and Ben Davidson set up Civil War displays in the church to add to the historical impact of the day.

The event was recorded by Bob and Nancy Whiteside of Archival Productions of Sorento. A DVD will be available at a later date.