By Sonia Duggan
The great-great-granddaughter of a Confederate soldier celebrated Decoration Day adorning his newly marked grave for the first time last Saturday.
For Sarah Tunis, the event was a culmination of years of family research and cemetery trips that the Civil War Veteran will never know. Nonetheless, Sarah was thrilled to see the new stone.
“It’s the first Decoration Day to have the new stone. We were excited about having that,” Sarah said.
The annual Decatur-Maxwell-Murphy Cemetery Memorial Day Observance hosted by the Cemetery Association of Murphy is a much-anticipated event. Sarah and her relatives had attended in the past and this year, Sarah, along with her husband, son, sister, cousin and cousin’s husband, all convened from all over the Metroplex at the Decatur-Maxwell-Murphy Cemetery.
When no one showed up at 9 a.m. they assumed the event was cancelled. They didn’t let that dampen their spirits as the group spent time decorating the grave of Lewis Skelton, a soldier of the 22nd Texas Cavalry, reminiscing about family and walking around taking pictures of headstones of other relatives in the cemetery.
An avid researcher of family history with 20 plus binders of documents and photos to her name, Sarah proved her great great-grandfather’s lineage a few years ago by showing military muster role records, enabling her to join the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
Her records show that Skelton joined the Civil War as a Confederate soldier in Ladonia in Fannin County. Sarah said he was in the Calvary though they didn’t have horses.
At the Memorial Day event last year, Sarah and her family were impressed with the celebration, and the thorough information that was provided.
“They had plot maps, pictures of how they had repaired headstones, poster boards, pictures and drawings,” she said.
While at the 2014 event, Sarah met Joy Gough of the Cemetery Association. Sarah showed Gough her UDC paperwork and told her that her great-great-grandfather’s brother, Joseph Skelton (also a soldier) and his wife Jane were buried in the cemetery. They were able to locate the graves of the brother, the brother’s wife, their daughters and a sister named Sarah Housewright, located further back in cemetery.
Sarah told Gough she had grandparents in the cemetery but didn’t know where the headstones were due to the fact that the cemetery had been vandalized in the past.
The older, original gravestones were carved out of wood and a grass fire burned them, extinguishing history.
“They were on the roster of the cemetery but we didn’t know where they were buried because the stones were gone,” Sarah’s cousin Karen said.
Just a few months ago, Sarah said she got a pleasant surprise. Gough sent her an email letting her know that the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Shiloh Chapter 2538, replaced her great- great-grandfather’s gravestone specifically because he (Lewis) and his wife, Matilda, were on the roster.
“They placed the stone where they thought it should be, right next to his brother, “ she said.
The exact whereabouts of Matilda’s grave still has not been determined but if the binders and all the research work is any indication, it might just come to fruition in the near future.
“I now have a place where I can come pay my respects,” Sarah said.