- Associated Press - Thursday, July 9, 2015

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Congress is arguing about a proposal to ban Confederate flags on rebel graves in cemeteries run by the National Park Service, but the outcome will have little effect on Mississippi’s only Park Service cemetery.

Only two Confederate soldiers lie among the 20,000 troops buried in Vicksburg National Military Park near the Mississippi River.

The rebels - one from Texas and one from Arkansas - both died in a nearby Union hospital and were mistakenly buried in the U.S. cemetery established in 1866, park ranger Ray Hamel said Thursday.

Hamel said that on Memorial Day, park volunteers place a small American flag by the gravesite of each U.S. soldier. The two Confederate graves are decorated with the national flag of the Confederate States of America, which has three wide bars - red, white, red - and a blue corner with a circle of 13 white stars.

The Confederate banner being removed from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds was a battle flag of a northern Virginia regiment. The emblem has been part of the Mississippi state flag since 1894.

Hamel said the battle flag was never flown during the Vicksburg campaign in 1863, so it would not be historically correct to decorate the two Confederate graves in the Vicksburg National Military Park with that banner.

“The fact that we don’t fly it means that we are being historically accurate,” said Hamel, who supervises the visitors center and museum.

In 1863, Union forces waged a long campaign to conquer Vicksburg and gain control of the lower Mississippi River. The effort culminated in a concentrated attack that started May 18, 1863, and a siege that began eight days later. Confederate forces surrendered the city on July 4.

About 17,0000 of those buried in the Vicksburg National Military Park cemetery are U.S. soldiers who died in battle or of various diseases during the Vicksburg campaign 152 years ago. About 3,000 are Mississippi soldiers who died in later wars, including World War II.

About 5,000 Confederate soldiers died during the Vicksburg campaign. Some were taken home for burial, and many are buried in the Vicksburg city cemetery near the national military park. The city cemetery is not affected by National Park Service regulations.

Mississippi marks Confederate Memorial Day at the end of April. Hamel said that although Vicksburg National Military Park does not decorate graves that day, he allowed the director of a local history museum this year to place a wreath at the park’s monument to Jefferson Davis. The president of the Confederacy had a home near Vicksburg.

On Thursday, one of the Confederate graves in the Vicksburg National Military Park had two small, faded Confederate battle flags. Hamel said they were not placed there by Park Service employees.

____

Associated Press photographer Rogelio V. Solis contributed to this report from Vicksburg.

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