Ceremony honors black soldier’s place in history

The final chapter of Albert Anderson’s life unfolded in a church cemetery Saturday, when the Botetourt Artillery, Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 1701, marked his grave – 82 years after he died.

At least three generations of Andersons from central and Southwest Virginia, Maryland, Florida and Washington, D.C., gathered to honor their ancestor, one of two black militiamen with the Botetourt Artillery at Manassas and with the unit when it suffered heavy casualties during the siege of Vicksburg, Miss. "Albert Anderson was a man … an American soldier … and he did his duty," Jerald Markham, who has written a book about the Botetourt Artillery, told nearly 175 people gathered at the cemetery.

The unusual ceremony included proclamations from the Campbell County Board of Supervisors and the Lynchburg City Council, recognizing the contributions of Anderson and other black soldiers, many of them slaves, who served during the Civil War.

A Confederate flag ceremony, a 21-gun salute and a cannon salute preceded the placing of three small Confederate flags in front of Anderson’s new tombstone in the Mt. Moriah Baptist Church Cemetery.

SCV members and members of about seven other historical organizations whose members study the Civil War, mark veterans’ graves and conduct military re-enactments. They were in period dress as Herbert Otey of Roanoke unveiled the tombstone bearing the name of his great-great- grandfather.

Otey, who recently became the first black member of the Botetourt SCV unit, called the ceremony outstanding.

"I forgive. It’s time to practice Christian love. We need to move forward and build bonds of brotherhood," Otey said of a potential conflict with some family members over the racist overtones associated with the Confederate flag.

At the request of some family members, the flag used during the ceremony was presented to the Bedford City-County Museum, where Anderson relatives have conducted much of their genealogical research.

Such flags are normally presented to a family member, according to Jerry Huff and Lewis Sifford, SCV members who organized the ceremony.

Family spokeswoman Sharon Rose said the family appreciated and supported the SCV’s recognition of Anderson but, as African Americans, some members "are not in acceptance of the flag."

Saturday’s ceremony marked the second time the Botetourt unit has honored Anderson.

Based on information the unit had received earlier, members conducted a ceremony and unveiled a marker in New Hope Church Cemetery in Botetourt County in June 2003.

But a story in The Roanoke Times about the SCV’s efforts to find Anderson family members caught the attention of Howard Anderson and his cousin Marion Anderson Banks, who had been helping other family members with genealogical research.

They had been stumped when they reached the name of Albert Anderson. The newspaper reported a man with many similarities to their ancestor. But they had proof of where their great-great-grandfather was buried.

No information has been found about Albert Anderson’s whereabouts before 1861, when he joined the Mountain Rifles of Buchanan, a militia organized by W.W. Boyd and Joseph W. Anderson, who is presumed to have been Albert Anderson’s owner during slavery.

Some family members think Albert Anderson may have joined the militia to buy his freedom from Joseph Anderson. Albert Anderson accompanied Joseph Anderson’s body to Fincastle after Vicksburg.

After Albert Anderson’s descendants saw the newspaper story, they met with members of the SCV and discovered they were talking about the same man.

Some speculate that the man buried in Botetourt County could be William Mayo, the other black cook pictured in an 1867 photograph of the artillery.

"I feel good about the information on Mr. Anderson now," Huff said before Saturday’s ceremony. Marking the wrong grave earlier was somewhat embarrassing, but it gave the unit an opportunity for public service: It cleaned up the Botetourt County cemetery, which had become an overgrown dump site.