U.S. Colored Troops memorial installed in Springfield cemetery

Mike Turner, right, and Nick McMaken, of Turner Landscaping, put the finishing touches on the walkway for the new monument honoring the United States Colored Troops who fought in the Civil War and are buried in Ferncliff Cemetery Wednesday. The new monument is located in the Civil War veteran’s section. Roughly 179,000 United States Colored Troops served in the Civil War and approximately 40,000 black soldiers died in the war. The monument was supposed to be dedicated on Veterans Day, however, since the Veterans Day activities were canceled, the dedication will be held at a later date. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

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Mike Turner, right, and Nick McMaken, of Turner Landscaping, put the finishing touches on the walkway for the new monument honoring the United States Colored Troops who fought in the Civil War and are buried in Ferncliff Cemetery Wednesday. The new monument is located in the Civil War veteran’s section. Roughly 179,000 United States Colored Troops served in the Civil War and approximately 40,000 black soldiers died in the war. The monument was supposed to be dedicated on Veterans Day, however, since the Veterans Day activities were canceled, the dedication will be held at a later date. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

A permanent tribute to African American soldiers who fought in the Union Army during the Civil War interred on Ferncliff Cemetery’s Grand Army of the Republic Mound has been mounted there courtesy of a collaboration between the Ferncliff Cemetery Association and the Gammon House, Inc.

The United States Colored Troops monument bears the names of 139 men laid to rest just beyond it. It was meant to be dedicated after Springfield’s annual Memorial Day Parade, which was canceled due to precautions for the coronavirus pandemic, and will be dedicated at a later date.

Dale Henry, president of the Gammon House, a Springfield historic home that served as a stop on the Underground Railroad, got the idea for the monument in 2013 and it came together in 2019.

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“This is a unique legacy, a special tribute for these Civil War Veterans 155 years after the war ended,” said Henry, whose own great grandfather, Samuel Bryant, was a Union soldier buried there.

The monument stands 5½ feet tall, weighs nearly 8,000 pounds and is made of Blue Ridge Granite. It contains each veteran’s name, the regiment, company and unit he served in.

A tablet on the top explains the monument’s significance. There are several other historical connections.

At least two of the soldiers served in the regiment famously depicted in the Oscar-winning film “Glory.” Several others, including Samuel Bryant, were at the Confederate surrenders in April 1865 that ended the war, which is acknowledged on the monument.

Another is Addison White, a runway slave who came to Mechanicsburg and later served in the Army. The Gammon House has artifacts of White’s life.

“Can you imagine the stories of the guys resting out here,” Henry said.

Charles Gammon, one of the sons of the Gammon family that owned the historic Springfield property, also died in the Civil War, although he is buried in South Carolina.

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William Miller, a Gammon House board member, said Clark County is unique in that the only other Ohio cemeteries with more African American Union veterans are in bigger cities such as Cleveland and Columbus. He attributes that to Ferncliff’s record-keeping over the years.

Many Civil War veterans settled in Springfield as it was a booming town around the turn of the century with available jobs.

“We as a community can be proud of that. It speaks to our awareness,” Miller said.

The Ferncliff Cemetery Association voted unanimously to support the project, underwriting the cost for the monument and its installation, costing around $15,000. The cemetery opened in 1863 as the war was raging.

“Ferncliff’s board of trustees knew this was compelling, not only as distinction for Ferncliff, but for the state,” said Ferncliff representative Darrell Kitchen. “We like to be a collaborator in the community and this project was a nice match.”

Kitchen added that Ferncliff is proud of also having areas for veterans of World Wars I and II and a war memorial representing wars America was involved in up through the War on Terror.

Ferncliff Cemetery and Arboretum offers public events such as its annual fall tour and did a mausoleum tour with another group. Kitchen said people may be surprised to learn of the history and beauty of the space, which stretches over 240 acres.

While its annual Juneteenth celebration has been canceled due to the pandemic, the Gammon House has several ongoing projects. Members are cleaning the headstones of Civil War veterans buried on Grand Army of the Republic Mound that have deteriorated with age, and anyone who is interested in helping is welcome.

“These men fought in the war that changed our country. They deserve this,” Henry said. “This is another community treasure.”

On Sept. 19, the Gammon House will dedicate a plaque from the national Underground Railroad organization, tying into the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22.

For more information on the Gammon House, go to gammonhouseoh.org. To volunteer to help with headstone cleaning, contact Henry at 937-244-2754.

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