PENITAS — Ninety-five years after his death, Sgt. Ignacio Zamora was finally given his military honors thanks to the work of his great-grandson.
Penitas resident Eloy Zamora spent about eight years looking up information about his great-grandfather after discovering that he had served in the Union Army during the Civil War.
After gathering all of the needed documentation, he requested and received a military headstone from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Now Sgt. Zamora’s headstone sits next to his relatives’ graves in the small Penitas Cemetery in South Texas.
“I’m a veteran myself and it’s very important we recognize and honor all those that served,” said Zamora, who served in the Army in West Berlin in 1971 and 1972.
Eloy Zamora, an unemployment insurance consultant, said his mother told him in Spanish that her grandfather had fought in the Guerra Civil, the Civil War, but he assumed she meant the Mexican Revolution. Later through a search on the Internet, he found out it was actually the U.S. Civil War.
“It was really a surprise for all of us to find out,” he said.
Zamora said he can trace his family back to 1749, the year Reynosa was founded. During the next century, the Rio Grande Valley changed from being part of the New Spain territory, to Mexico, to the Republic of Texas, to the United States, Zamora said.
“We’ve been Spaniards, then Mexicans, then Texans, then Americans,” he said.
Zamora said he found it interesting to learn about the many Mexican-Americans who had served in the war, particularly in the Union Army in a Confederate state.
About 2,550 Mexican-Texans fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War and about 950 fought in the Union Army, according to the book “Vaqueros in Blue and Gray” by Jerry D. Thompson. An estimated 9,500 Mexican-Americans fought in the U.S. Civil War throughout the country.
About 90,000 Texans fought in the Civil War, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
Sgt. Zamora, a cowboy, enlisted with the Union Army 2nd Regiment Texas Cavalry Company in Brownsville in 1864, according to records Eloy Zamora found. Ignacio Zamora was 26 when he enlisted and served until November 1865. He died in 1917 at the age of 82.
Eloy Zamora found several records including a report of a skirmish Sgt. Zamora fought in near Santa Rosa, and his discharge papers.
Melissa Beall, the president of the Palo Alto Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, works with the descendants of Confederate and Union soldiers to find similar documentation in order to receive honors from Veterans Affairs.
“It’s amazing where you can find the clues,” Beall said of her research.
Beall said she and others comb through online records and old newspapers to find proof. While they mostly look for Confederate soldiers they’ve also helped relatives of former Union soldiers including those of Jose Maria Loya, whose gravestone sits near Sgt. Zamora’s.
In November, United Daughters of the Confederacy dedicated the headstone of Abraham Rutledge, the great-grandfather of former Hidalgo County Republican Chairman Hollis Rutledge. Abraham Rutledge enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1862.
“I think it’s very important no matter which side they fought on for them to be remembered and for their graves to be marked,” she said.
Beall said she hopes when people see such grave markers “it may spark a little bit of interest for them to go back and research and take more interest in history.”
Eloy Zamora, who held a dedication ceremony in October, said he is proud of his great-grandfather, who chose to serve his country during a very difficult time. The headstone serves as a reminder of the family’s American heritage.
“It’s just an awesome and great feeling to know that someone in our family fought in the Civil War, which was the bloodiest war and most horrific war we’ve had in the U.S.,” he said.