A Civil War soldier who volunteered to take part in a heroic effort to breach a Confederate stronghold under withering fire during the Battle of Vicksburg was buried in a place of honor Thursday at the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery, in Dunbar.
U.S. Army Pvt. James Calvin Summers, of Elkview, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his role in the May 22, 1863, attempt to capture Stockade Redan, one of several heavily fortified Confederate Army bastions defending Vicksburg, Mississippi’s main access roads along a 3-mile ring of earthworks and artillery emplacements.
A fellow West Virginia Medal of Honor recipient, World War II Marine Hershel “Woody” Williams, took part in Thursday’s graveside military service honoring Summers. Williams, a Marion County native who earned his Medal of Honor for clearing a series of Japanese machine gun nests at extreme personal risk during the Battle of Iwo Jima, also took the lead in arranging to have Summers reburied in a place where his status as a Medal of Honor recipient will be properly recognized.
Last year, Williams played a similar role in having the remains of World War I Medal of Honor recipient Chester Howard West transferred from an overgrown cemetery in the Chief Cornstalk Wildlife Management Area, in Mason County, to the same veterans cemetery where Summers was laid to rest Thursday.
Williams also plans for the cemetery in Dunbar to be his final resting place.
After enlisting at age 25 in Company H of the 4th West Virginia Infantry in Charleston in 1861, Summers’ regiment skirmished with Confederate troops in Kentucky. The following year, the regiment defended against a Confederate attack on Fayetteville, took part in the Battle of Charleston and fought in the Battle of Bulltown, in Braxton County.
In 1863, the regiment was ordered south, where it fought in Mississippi at Black Bayou, Vicksburg and the Siege of Jackson.
At Vicksburg, Summers was among 150 Union soldiers under the command of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman who volunteered to carry logs, planks and ladders across a quarter-mile stretch of open ground to cross an 8-foot-wide, 6-foot-deep ditch and scale a wall of the Confederate stronghold known as Stockade Redan.
The group of volunteers, whom Sherman called his “Forlorn Hope” for a breakthrough of Confederate lines, led the advance toward the stockade, and were not fired on until they nearly reached the enemy position, at which point the Southerners opened fire with deadly effect.
Half of the “Forlorn Hope” volunteers were soon killed or captured. A few reached the top of the fort’s wall, but all were eventually driven back. Following the Confederate surrender at Vicksburg, Summers’ regiment took part in the Lynchburg campaign in Virginia, before the Elkview man was mustered out of the Army in August 1864.
In 1895, a number of “Forlorn Hope” volunteers who survived the charge, including Summers and four other members of his regiment, were awarded the Medal of Honor for “gallantry in the charge by the volunteer storming party.”
Summers worked as a wagon driver and farmer after the war, according to census records. He died in 1927 at age 89 and was buried in a tiny family plot on his Elkview area farm. While a time-worn marker there included his regimental affiliation, it made no reference to his having been awarded the nation’s highest military honor.
After determining Summers had no direct surviving descendants to possibly object to his reburial, court papers were filed to accommodate the move to the veterans cemetery in Dunbar.