Sons of Confederate Veterans dedicate gravestone to black Confederate veteran
Nearly 82 years after his death, Aaron Perry finally received the honor he was due. Descendents of Perry, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Civil War re-enactors and others gathered at Philadelphia Baptist Church in Marshville on Saturday, Feb. 18. for a grave marker dedication ceremony to honor the black soldier.
The ceremony featured a handful of speakers, including current U.S. soldiers, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Aaron Perry’s great-great-great grandson, Greg Perry.
Dozens of attendants watched in silence as Latham’s Light Artillery, dressed in confederate Civil War uniforms, fired two cannon shots and two artillery shots at the end of the ceremony in reverence to the memory of the confederate soldier. Roses were given to six representatives of the Perry family, who subsequently placed them on the soldier’s grave.
Historians believe Perry was born around 1840. From 1861 to 1865, Perry served in the 37th N.C. Regiment of the Confederate Army. Because all able-bodied white men had also gone to the front, a petition was granted that allowed Perry to return home to care for the women and children left behind.
“He was a man who was determined to do the right thing,” Joel Fesperman, Commander of Sgt. Ivy Ritchie Camp # 1734, said. “Good day for history.”
Perry’s grave had remained unmarked since his death on March 14, 1930. Although his obituary referenced his service to the Confederate Army and called him a “solid, sober” man who “would have made a good New England Puritan,” he was never officially recognized as a Civil War veteran due to his status as a slave during the war.
During preparations to dedicate a government-furnished headstone for Weary Clyburn, another African-American soldier who fought in the Confederate Army, Sons of Confederate Veterans member Tony Way learned of Perry.
“I was checking things out, when I stumbled upon this wonderful story,” Way said. “(Perry) lived his life with integrity from birth to death. His whole life was his eulogy.”
With the help of Patricia Poland of the Union County Public Library’s genealogy department, Way spent nearly three years learning about Perry’s life and working toward getting Perry the recognition he deserved. Way was in the library’s genealogical department when, by a simple twist of fate, he and Greg Perry crossed paths.
Greg Perry was doing his own unrelated research when he and Way made a connection. “He was on a journey looking at my grandfather’s life,” Greg Perry said. “It was a spark that started a fire.”
Because Perry’s gravestone was unmarked, family members had to identify which grave was his. At the time, an iron stake and some stones were the only things marking where Perry was buried.
Initially, the Veteran’s Association rejected Representative Sue Myrick’s request that a headstone be granted to Perry, stating that he was not a true Civil War solider because he entered the war with his master and could not willingly enlist himself. Myrick countered by stating that the VA had recently granted Clyburn a stone, but VA representatives said that was an error on their part.
Way refused to give up and decided to take a new route. He, along with fellow members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, took up a collection to purchase a headstone for Perry’s grave. The headstone identifies Perry, his assumed year of birth and actual date of death and his service in the Confederate Army 37th NC Regiment from 1861-1865.
After the war ended and Perry gained his freedom, he earned a living as a farmer in the Lanes Creek area. He fathered 15 children, nine of which lived to reach adulthood, served as the superintendent of Philadelphia Baptist’s school and died at the home of his son, J.W. Perry.
Contrary to what some may believe, the dedication ceremony just happened to fall in February and was not intended to be affiliated with Black History Month.
“It’s good (that it was) done in Black History Month, but we should make this type of history part of every month, not just once a year,” Way said. “(These soldiers) should be recognized at anytime.”
While researching Clyburn and Perry, Way discovered eight more black confederate soldiers in Union County who have yet to receive the burial of a war veteran. Way is determined to track down the graves of Wilson Ashcraft, Ned Byrd, Wyatt Cunningham, George Cureton, Hamp Cuthbertson, Mose Fraiser, Lewis McGill and Jeff Sanders, giving them the honor of a true Confederate soldier.
Greg Perry hopes the recognition of soldiers like Aaron Perry will be a testimony, not just to the service of blacks and whites, but to the human race as a whole. “When you don’t consider one perspective, you leave all the others out,” he said. “It gives you such insight to see we’re all people, equal. It’s such a fulfilled life, and I am grateful that my grandfather’s life transcended all 150 years.”