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Crosses marking Confederate graves stolen from historic church site

Iron grave markers, called the Southern Cross of Honor, recognize Confederate veterans in Parish Church of St. Helena cemetery in downtown Beaufort. Similar markers recently were reported stolen from Old Sheldon Church graves in Yemassee.
Iron grave markers, called the Southern Cross of Honor, recognize Confederate veterans in Parish Church of St. Helena cemetery in downtown Beaufort. Similar markers recently were reported stolen from Old Sheldon Church graves in Yemassee. sfastenau@beaufortgazette.com

Iron crosses marking three Confederate graves at the Old Sheldon Church ruins have been stolen, the site’s caretaker said Tuesday.

Bill Sammons, the Beaufort man who looks after the hallowed church grounds in Yemassee, noticed the markers missing Monday morning after a visitor alerted him to the possible vandalism. The Southern Cross of Honor markers were ordered for the graves about five years ago by Parish Church of St. Helena, which owns the ruins.

The markers had been set in concrete and would have had to be dug up, Sammons said. The apparent vandalism follows unrest after nine black worshippers were shot and killed at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015 and the Confederate flag was removed from the top of the Statehouse.

“It’s expensive, and it’s frustrating, and it’s just kind of beyond my level of comprehension why anyone would want to desecrate graves,” Sammons said.

The ruins off Old Sheldon Church Road near Gardens Corner have fought vandalism in the past. The site is a popular target for bored teenagers who etch their names into the soft, handmade bricks and children of visiting families who treat the ruins and graves as a playground.

Clemson researchers working with the Preservation Society of Charleston recently assessed the site using three-dimensional scanning technology to map the ruins. The structure is sound, but the images provide a blueprint if needed.

There has been little trouble since security lights were installed, Sammons said. But fully securing the remote ruins is difficult.

Desecrating or damaging graves or memorials is a felony in South Carolina. Sons of Confederate Veterans, which provides the markers to churches and rural cemeteries, says the pieces often turn up in antique and pawn shops.

The three graves belong to:

▪  William Fuller, a second lieutenant in the Confederacy who died in 1902.

▪  George Chisolm Mackey, killed in battle in 1864.

▪  Edward Mackey, who drowned in 1868, according to information Sammons provided.

Headstones have been broken in past years and replaced by the church, only to be broken again.

The church plans to replace the crosses, but perhaps not immediately.

“We might wait until all this blows over,” Sammons said.

Stephen Fastenau: 843-706-8182, @IPBG_Stephen

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