By: Tara Auter
Around sixty-five people gathered in a rural Vermilion County, Illinois cemetery for the unveiling and dedication of a military tombstone at the previously unmarked grave of Sergeant John W. Simpson of the 14th Virginia Cavalry on April 21st. The stone placed on his grave in 1918 had disappeared long ago. This was the second time in a year that a stone was dedicated for a Confederate who had moved west after the war and settled in the county along the Illinois/Indiana border. The Ward Hill Lamon Civil War Roundtable and Illiana Civil War Historical Society applied for the stone, had it installed and conducted the dedication ceremony.
The groups’ President, Larry Weatherford, told the story of the Simpson’s service. He said that “John was one of four sons of Preston and Rachel Simpson who volunteered to serve in the Confederate army. John and his brother Stephen first joined the 59th Virginia Infantry, which was a part of Wise’s Legion. They were surrounded by the forces of General Ambrose Burnside and captured on February 8th of 1862 at the Battle of Roanoke Island. After their parole, they joined Company D of the 14th Virginia Cavalry along with their friend Hermann Schuricht. Schuricht , who had been trained in the German Army, was an officer in Wise’s Legion and the 14th Virginia Cavalry. Much of Schuricht’s diary was published after the war giving an insight into just where the boys of Company D served and what they did.” Weatherford focused on their service in the Gettysburg campaign and the commendation they received from Generals Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart during the retreat. Two of Sergeant Simpson’s other brothers, William and James, joined the 27th Virginia Infantry.
Weatherford pointed out the grave of John W. Simpson’s daughter, Mary Catherine, who had married a Union veteran, named Armour Trimble. Stone dedications are planned for two of Trimble’s brothers later this year. Fifty-eight Civil War veterans are buried in the cemetery near Fairmount.
Readings were given by Don Smith, Jennifer Skowronski and Greg Green. Jeff Cheeks, portraying Lieutenant General Richard S. Ewell, placed a specially minted medallion on the stone, and spoke briefly about how much he had valued the service of his men, such as Sergeant Simpson. The medallion was made and donated by David Tatum of Virginia. Others participating in the ceremony were Emily Bencomo, Suzanne Cheeks, Beverly Glenn, Glona Howe, Marilyn Smith, Rhea Weatherford, Michael Wilson and Becky and Alan Woodrum. Volleys in honor of Sergeant Simpson and all veterans in Greenview Cemetery were fired by an Honor Guard consisting of reenactors wearing blue and gray. Those were: Eugene Bencomo, Charles Gamm, Rodney Martin, Doug Sowers and Jerry Stanis. All attendees joined in sprinkling flower petals on the grave as the ceremony ended.