Tuesday, February 12, 2002

RADEL: Civil War research

Students find heroes in history

By Cliff Radel
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Somewhere in heaven, Civil War soldiers are saluting Paul LaRue and 100 high school students from Washington Court House, Ohio.

        Paul teaches history at the rural town's Washington Senior High School.

        For two years, the teacher and students in his research history class have worked on a project for Ohio's Bicentennial. They are locating the graves of the state's black Civil War soldiers.

        Besides learning teamwork, Paul's students have also realized the rewards that come from fighting for freedom. If only all adults possessed such wisdom.

Gathering names

               The project's first phase involved going county by county — via books, microfilm, computer and field trips — to list the soldiers' graves.

        “So far, we have 3,050 names of soldiers buried in 86 of Ohio's 88 counties,” Paul told me.

        He believes the list will grow. The project's Web site — via www.washingtonch.k12.oh.us — opens today, Abraham Lincoln's birthday.

        “We hope to hear from other people with grave records,” he said. “We'll be glad to add names.”

        One name on the list belongs to a Cincinnatian, Powhatan Beaty. Former slave. Civil War hero. Medal of Honor recipient — one of 17 African-American soldiers so honored in that war.

        He's buried in Covedale's Union Baptist Cemetery, a place where soft breezes whisper through the pines.

        The cemetery was established in 1864. That fall — 21 months after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the South and allowed blacks to serve in the armed forces — Powhatan Beaty became a hero.

        Under fire, he rallied retreating troops by racing to retrieve the flag from a fallen color-bearer. Finding his officers dead, he led his fellow soldiers to victory.

        No sign tells this story by Powhatan Beaty's grave. His bronze marker bears the words: “Medal of Honor.”

        At least he has a marker.

        “Some of the soldiers' graves in Union Baptist and other cemeteries are unmarked,” Paul said. The project hopes someday to obtain white marble stones for the unmarked graves and put up historical markers next to the final resting places of heroes.

Family ties

               John Taylor, a former slave and Civil War veteran, is a hero to Stephen Jackson, his 18-year-old great-great grandson.

        Stephen signed up for Paul's research history course thinking it would help when he goes to college.

        He had no idea a relative fought in the Civil War.

        “One day, I asked my mom,” Stephen recalled. “She told me about John Taylor, my great-great grandfather. He died in 1931 and is buried in Washington Court House. My grandfather knew him. He's told me lots of stories about him.”

        Stephen has read John Taylor's Army file and a diary noting “they had no shoes sometimes and they still marched. And kept fighting.”

        His research made him wonder if he would have fought for freedom in the Civil War.

        Stephen came up with an answer — “yes” — and an explanation.

        “In another century, my great-great grandson would be free,” he said, “able to go into the same bathrooms and use the same drinking fountains as other races. That would have filled my heart with gladness.”

        Somewhere in heaven, a Civil War soldier must be smiling.

       Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340; e-mail cradel@enquirer.com.


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