By Art Holliday
ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KSDK) - In a mass grave at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, 175 members of the 56th United States Colored Infantry are laid to rest, former slaves who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War.
Their mass grave has a headstone that says "Unknown Soldiers," but the identities of the soldiers have been known for many years.
The St. Louis African American History and Genealogy Society is lobbying Washington to provide individual memorial stones for the members of the 56th. The society's remembrance service Friday was part of an awareness campaign.
Among those attending the ceremony was Congresswoman Ann Wagner, whose 2nd Congressional District includes Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.
"It's an honor to represent Jefferson Barracks and all those laid rest on this sacred ground who fought to preserve our liberties and freedom, including the men of the 56th," said Rep. Wagner. "Finally today they have received an outward recognition of their service and sacrifice."
The highlight of the remembrance service was the reading of the names of each member of the 56th. The first person to read names was 81-year-old George Abbington of St. Louis. Abbington's great-great-great uncle, Granville Abbington was a member of the 56th. Abbington was presented with a folded American flag in honor of his relative who served in the 56th.
"It means a lot," said Abbington.
Sara Cato of the St. Louis African American History and Genealogy Society is in charge of the effort to gain recognition for the 56th U.S. Colored Infantry.
"There is an old proverb that says 'as long as your name is spoken, you're still alive'. So they are alive and known and broadcast to the world," she said.