A few county natives made it back to Loudoun after the war and, like Weaver, made a mark on the local African American community. Of the 250 or so black Loudoun soldiers Grigsby found, fewer than 20 returned.
“I don’t want to say they lived an anonymous life,” he said. “But they just kind of settled back in. There weren’t parades or statues or monuments; they came back as victors.”
“I can’t even imagine what it was like for an African American . . . to have had that moment,” Grigsby said. “In some cases, you went from a slave to a liberator . . . to a protector and then, within so many years, you begin to see that freedom slowly peeled back and you have the rise of Jim Crow.”
“So it’s no wonder that it took all these years later to kind of start discovering, wow, we had a lot of Civil War vets who were African American here,” he added. “You have to remember you are in Virginia, and that story kind of got overlooked.”
Weaver helped found and fund the cemetery where he is buried — a crucial task for blacks in the post-slavery South, where they couldn’t be buried with whites, Grigsby wrote in his book.
Weaver “understood that having a cemetery was an important part of establishing an identity for the black communities in southwestern Loudoun County,” Grigsby wrote.
“A school, cemetery, and church were three things soon established after ex-slaves founded communities of their own . . . following the end of the Civil War,” he wrote.
Other black Loudoun veterans are buried in such cemeteries.
James Gaskins of the 39th U.S. Colored Infantry, William Taylor of the 1st U.S. Colored Infantry and Joseph Waters of the 5th Massachusetts Cavalry rest in Leesburg’s Mount Zion Cemetery.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Grigsby and Peterson stood in the windblown cemetery where Weaver is buried. As the sun set, a tattered American flag flew overhead and tall evergreens swayed in the gusts.
For years, Peterson said, he had ignored Weaver’s modest tombstone etched with the cryptic “ CO.D 1 U.S.C.I.”
“I never paid any attention to it,” said Peterson, who said he has been the caretaker for 57 years. “At the time, I didn’t understand. I could read his name, but I couldn’t understand the other part of it.”
That began to change the day in the cemetery when Weaver’s spirit seemed to grab him.
“It almost had to be something like that,” Grigsby said.
Weaver and his wife had no children. “So there was no one left to take care of their graves, no one to tell their story,” he said. “So if it wasn’t for Vernon, their story would have been forgotten.”