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Once-unknown Civil War soldiers get new tombstones

MARIETTA, Ga. -- A 21-shot tribute was fired and soil from Ireland was sprinkled Friday at an unveiling ceremony of new tombstones for three Union soldiers identified nearly 135 years after their deaths.

"Three restless souls can be at peace now," said David Evans, a writer who followed a trail of military documents for more than two decades to discover the identities."These three men who were so hopelessly lost for so long, now have been found," Evans said. "I think maybe this is God's gentle reminder that no matter how hopeless things may seem, there's always hope."

Evans did his sleuthing while researching his 1996 book, "Sherman's Horsemen," recounting Union cavalry raids around Atlanta in 1864.

The remains of Pvts. James Harris, 24, of Missouri, William Britt, 38, of Tennessee, and David Sage, 20, of Nebraska were found at the Marietta National Cemetery in Georgia.

The three members of the 5th Iowa Cavalry were shot in a battle July 18, 1864, with young Confederate conscripts and University of Alabama cadets at Beasley's Tank, Ala.

They were behind enemy lines to tear up railroad tracks and were among thousands of soldiers exhumed after the war from their shallow graves and moved to Marietta, where they were buried under numbered, six-inch-high marble "unknown" markers.

Despite modern research techniques and increased interest in genealogy, such new identifications remain rare because many soldiers were hastily buried where they fell, with little time for markers.