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Graves of the CSS Arkansas dead will soon be marked

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Inset: Bryan Skipworth stands beside a plaque in Cedar Hill Cemetery that recounts the role of the Arkansas in the War Between the States. The names of the casualties from the ship, and often their states and ranks, are listed on the back of the plaque. The plaque was funded by the Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton Camp, Sons of the Confederate Veterans. Skipworth launched a one-man campaign to secure headstones for the men.

This is the second of two stories about the Confederate ironclad CSS Arkansas, which made Naval history here in 1862, and of the men who lost their lives fighting for their country.


After 147 years, 23 men who lost their lives at Vicksburg will have their graves marked.

It’s because of the work and bulldog determination of Bryan Skipworth that their graves at last are going to have tombstones in Cedar Hill Cemetery. He has been at work on the project for the last four years.

The men were among the crew of the ironclad CSS Arkansas, which took on the Federal fleet here in second year of the War Between the States. The vessel’s role in the war lasted only 21 days, but its accomplishments are unparalleled in history. Her story has been told many times, especially in a novel by James Street, “By Valour and Arms,” and there’s an engraving of the vessel on the Arkansas state memorial in the Vicksburg National Military Park.

Skipworth grew up in Redwood, where he heard his grandparents tell stories of the past. His great-grandfather, Edward Warnock, who was from Yazoo County, was a Confederate veteran.

He has always like local history, Skipworth said, “but I really got into it about five or six years ago when I joined the Sons of Confederate Veterans.”

Two people really turned him on to the story of the Arkansas, he said: Wayne McMaster and Anna Leese Fuller.

McMaster is caretaker of Soldiers’ Rest, the Confederate burial ground in Cedar Hill Cemetery where most of the southern soldiers who died here are buried, and Skipworth volunteered to help him.

Fuller, who grew up in Vicksburg, is the daughter of Martha Price Leese and the late Grady Leese. She is a writer who lives in Virginia. She has a website about the Arkansas and another about Soldiers’ Rest. Fuller wanted photos of Confederate tombstones in Vicksburg, and Skipworth offered to send them. “She’s a night owl, and I work the graveyard shift, so I contacted her,” he said. They’ve never met, but because of their mutual interest, “we’ve become pen pals,” Skipworth said.

This unique stone—no doubt one of a kind—sparked Skipworth’s interest in finding the names of the other men who died while serving on the Arkansas. Hicks was a native of Vicksburg.

The photo that sparked Fuller’s interest was the tombstone for William Hicks who was killed while helping build the Arkansas. The stone is topped by the engraving of an anchor.

“That got me to wondering how many died on the Arkansas,” Skipworth said.

The history of the vessel had been researched for years, and it was know that some 75 to 80 men served on her. Imagine Skipworth’s surprise when he discovered more and more names until they numbered 230. Of that number, 23 were killed and are buried here. One was killed in a fight on the Yazoo and was buried in the river, and six others died while the Arkansas was coming past the Union fleet. The remainder died in the battle with the Essex at the Vicksburg waterfront.

One man died in a military hospital here, and in the records, a number was placed by his name. That number was an identifying grave designation in 1862, but no record exists that explains or conveys the numbering system, so the number has no significance today.

That one number, however, became a primary obstacle in Skipworth’s efforts to secure tombstones through the Veterans Administration. Though the lot where the men are buried and their names and ranks are known, VA officials insist there must be grave numbers, too.

Skipworth secured records from the Old Court House Museum telling of the men’s burials, and he found other records, too, including some very graphic accounts of the terribly mangled bodies. He supplied the VA with page after page of research, including drawings and photos of the cemetery plot, but it was all for naught—their minds were made up.

Undaunted, Skipworth turned to the private sector, and the stones have been paid for by the Mississippi Division of the SCV, by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the members of the Order of the Confederate Rose.

The markers, which weigh 270 pounds each, usually cost $350 each. They’re made by Columbus Marble Works in Columbus, Miss., a company that has been filling orders for grave markers from the federal government since the 1930s. The ordinary cost for the 23 markers from the Arkansas would be over $8,000, but the company provided these for $6,000. There was no shipping cost as Skipworth and McMaster drove a truck to Columbus to pick them up—more than three tons of marble.

Skipworth plans to put the stones in place himself sometime after the first of the year, and in late winter or early spring, there will be a dedication ceremony.

“Erecting the stones is a very personal project,” he said.


To read more about the Arkansas, visit the website css.arkansas.com.

 Read the first story, ‘The Arkansas is coming’: A story of unmatched bravery.

Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.

Hometown Hero

For Kami May, working with the United Way is a dream come true

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Kami May and her boyfriend, Ethan Mitchell.

Ever since she can remember, Kami May, Vicksburg native and 2011 Warren Central High School graduate, has had a love for helping others. Even when she was in high school, she volunteered with several organizations, and she believes her desire to help others is just a part of who she is.

“I don’t really know where it came from,” May said. “It’s kind of in my DNA. … Just always having that spirit, that give-back attitude and being a people person has always been in my DNA—to be happy and to be giving all the time. I just grew up that way and always knew I wanted to help people.”

May, who studied communications at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, has been working toward her ideal career since she was a teen.

“I had to have an internship to complete my studies, and my search led me to United Way,” May said. “I actually had a church member, Lori Burke, who served on the board at United Way in Vicksburg, and she told me about the organization. I reached out and was able to do my internship here.”

May’s internship lasted two months when the director of marketing and communications left for a new job. Michelle Connelly, executive director of the United Way West Central Division, offered the job to May.

“That began my career in nonprofits, which was my dream goal since graduating high school,” May said.

After three years with the United Way, May continues to do what she loves, and she learns something new each day.

“Working at United Way, every day is different, and every day has a new story to tell, a new opportunity to serve,” May said. “Every day is a new story to add to a book of things that I’ve helped out with. There’s not a day that goes by here that I’m not helping at least one person, and that means a lot to me.”

May knows that wherever life takes her, she will continue to serve.

“I don’t know what the future holds for me,” she said. “I’m still very young, 26. I haven’t figured that out yet, and that’s OK. I do feel like my love for nonprofits will never go away no matter what the future holds. Whether I stay in nonprofits or leave them, I know that I will continue to give, I will continue to advocate, and I will continue to volunteer.”

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Local church participates in Toys for Tots

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Bishop Oscar L. Davis, First Lady Loretta Davis and Word Church of Vicksburg members

In 1947, Marine reservist Maj. Bill Hendricks founded Toys for Tots, the U.S. Marine Corps-funded program that gathers and distributes toys to disadvantaged children. With about 15 million children living in poverty in the United States, program proved itself to be useful and has become a holiday tradition. 

In 2014. Takita Selvy, a member of the Word Church of Vicksburg, was given an opportunity to serve her community by joining with the charity as its Warren County coordinator.

“We’ve never had a Toys for Tots coordinator in this area,” Selvy said. “So. someone contacted my pastor and asked him if he knew anybody who would like to be a coordinator, and at that time, I didn’t have a job, and I wanted to stay busy in the ministry. I then took on the role as coordinator five years ago, and it’s just been blooming ever since.”

Every year, Selvy works with her fellow church members to gather all types of toys for children in need in the Warren County area.

“With our chapter it began five years ago,” she said. “We do it through my church, the Word Church of Vicksburg, and it’s pastored by Bishop Oscar L. Davis, and we try to make it greater and grander than the last year. We had a really big year last year and the year before that, and this year we just wanted to get the community involved. That was our main goal.”

With several organizations  and churches pitching in—including Child Protective Services, the Vicksburg Children’s Shelter, and the Family and Development Center—Selvy is grateful to the community for helping to make Toys for Tots a success each year. She says none of it would be possible without her pastor.

“Our pastor loves children, and he always wanted to be involved with Toys for Tots,” she said. “So when the opportunity presented itself, he was excited that we, as a church family, would be making a difference in the lives of disadvantaged children.”

The Word Church of Vicksburg is collecting toys for children ages 2 through 18. On Dec. 7, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., church members will be gathering at 2150 Iowa Blvd. to pack a truck full of toys. Then, on Dec. 14, the church will host a family friendly event from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 255 Fisher Ferry Road. Guests will be able to meet with Santa, drink hot cocoa, enjoy a train ride and decorate Christmas cards for deployed Marines.

For information, and to learn how to contribute to Toys for Tots, call Takita Selvy at 601-885-3599 or Jacqueline Brown at 601-589-0793.

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Felix leads Vicksburg Steel Strong to make a difference in the community

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Vicksburg Steel Strong President Antonio Felix holds up a popular Steelers memento, the terrible towel. Sales of the towel benefit various charitable organizations.

Vicksburg Steel Strong is an organization made up of Pittsburg Steelers fans who came together to enjoy football and to make a difference in the community.

The organization has been in existence since Nov. 4, 2018, and Antonio Felix is its president. Felix has always had love for the Steelers.

“We voted Tony as President because he is a strong and very dependable man,” said member Pat Terrell.

Felix, born in Los Angeles, moved to Vicksburg at a young age with his mother, and he graduated from Vicksburg High School in 1992.

A short time after graduation, Felix went to prison for four years on a aggravated assault charge. While incarcerated, he made the most of his time. He learned carpentry and earned a barber’s license in 1995.

After his release, Felix never looked back. Today, he lives in Vicksburg with his wife of 24 years, Marcie, and their three kids: Marcus, Antonio Jr., and Dejah. He’s also been a barber for 24 years and works at Fred’s Barbershop.

Vicksburg Steel Strong does community service work by hosting clothing drives, feeding the homeless, mentoring youth at the Warren County Detention Center and sponsoring a debutante ball, among many other things. The group also participates in every parade that Vicksburg hosts and supports Toys For Tots.

“I see this organization continuing to grow, and we have our minds right so I know we can do it,” said Adrienne Casselle.

Members of the Vicksburg Steelers Strong Club.

In the past year, Vicksburg Steel Strong has made a huge impact on the community, and they have no plans to stop.

“We are firm believers in Philippians 4:13 that says, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,'” said Terrell.

The group is about 30 members strong, and each member has a big love for their community.

“We are small in numbers, but we are full of love,” Felix said.

The members all have different stories on why they joined the organization, but they are all glad that they did.

“I am a true fan to the Steelers—inherited by my parents which is why I joined,” said club secretary Kevia Hall.

As the group’s leader, Felix is an example that people can change if given a second chance and he is paving the way for young kids to follow the right path through his mentoring. The organization brought people together from all over the community with the love of a football team, but their love reaches out to others who are having a tough time. The group is not in any competition with anyone, they just want to be better than they were the year before.

For more information, visit the club’s Facebook page.

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