August 17, 2004

For Vicky Blackard, it was a chance to say a final farewell to a man she never had met, whose face she never had seen.

But whose life was dear.

"I’ll try not to cry," Blackard told a group gathered yesterday in Hollywood Cemetery.

Yet she did cry.

She cried for the memory of her great-great-great-grandfather, Pvt. John Thomas Fullwood, Co. A., 1st Georgia Calvary.

Fullwood died 139 years ago.

Until yesterday, he was among 11,000 Confederate veterans who lie in unmarked graves in Richmond’s most famous cemetery. Altogether, about 18,000 Confederates are interred in Hollywood.

Blackard, a nurse from Savannah, Ga., started searching for the remains of her great-great-great grandfather about a year ago, after her mother’s genealogical efforts stalled. She ordered his service records from the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

That’s how she learned that he had died in Richmond, in Jackson Hospital on March 23, 1865, from dysentery, which was as lethal to Civil War-era soldiers as a musket ball.

Then she had some good luck.

"I called Hollywood Cemetery because I knew they had a large number of Confederate dead there. After Richmond burned, most records were lost. It was just pure luck that my ancestor was on the list that was not burned," she said.

She ordered a free headstone from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and made plans to come to Richmond with her mother, Lois Blackard of Largo, Fla., and other family members and friends.

In the beginning, she envisioned it as a simple ceremony. But as time passed, interest grew among such groups as the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

By the time of the ceremony, there was a bagpiper to play "Amazing Grace," Civil War reenacters, dozens of onlookers and a three-volley cannon salute.

"We never expected anything like this," said Blackard, who has since joined the Daughters of the Confederacy and was dressed in a Civil War-era black mourning dress for the headstone dedication.

Darryl Starnes of Mechanicsville, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said he believed there are two or three headstone dedications for Confederate veterans every year in the state.

"People will look for 20 or 30 years to find someone. It means something to them," Starnes said.

What it meant to Blackard, 41, was recognizing a family member who died in a place far away from home at the age of 39, leaving a wife and an infant son.

After leaving Richmond, Blackard said that she and her mother and father will go to Washington to research the National Archives for whatever other information is available about her great-great-great-grandfather.

She’s hoping for a little more good luck.

"The cherry on my sundae would be to find a picture of him," she said.

© 2004, Media General, Inc.