AfriGeneas Military Research Forum Archive
"Slave to Soldier"
Railroad guided Courtland man in walk to Decatur and freedom
Third of a series.
By Deangelo McDaniel
COURTLAND — For most of the Civil War, the railroad between Decatur and Tuscumbia moved supplies and troops for the Confederate and Union armies.
Bird, according to family lore, did not know his way to Decatur, but he knew the railroad tracks went to the city.
Most of the slaves in the area were aware that Union recruiters were looking for black men to serve in one of the nation's first black regiments.
Peggy Allen Towns, a district aide for U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville, has been researching her family for almost six years.
She has no blood connection to Bird, but she has information about the former Civil War soldier because he married one of her blood relatives.
"It always makes you proud when you learn that someone in your family was willing to fight for their freedom," Towns said.
Bird, who was born between 1845 and 1848 to slaves Aaron and Millie Bird, joined Co. A of the 110th U.S. Colored Infantry.
This unit organized in Pulaski, Tenn., on Nov. 20, 1863, as the Second Alabama Infantry of African Descent. The government attached the regiment to North Alabama and used the men primarily for guarding railroads.
Bird almost lost his freedom in the fall of 1864 when Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest attacked their position in Athens.
His military records do not say how, but he escaped before Col. Wallace Campbell surrendered the black troops Sept. 24, 1864.
Towns continues to build her file on Bird, but she is certain about what happened to her great-grandfather, Allen Polk.
Polk, a runaway slave from Virginia, fought for the Union Army when Gen. John Bell Hood tried to take Nashville in the winter of 1864. After the war, he settled in Lawrence County.
"Nobody in the family knows how he got here or why he came here," Towns said.
July 4 bad memory
Towns said Polk and his children never celebrated July 4 because Polk's brother and mother were sold on that date in Virginia.
"He was separated from them, and I don't know that he ever saw them again," Towns said. "It was work as usual on July 4."
Polk, who died in 1938 in Morgan County, told family members he worked on a plantation for President James Polk, Towns said.
"I remember asking one of his daughters to celebrate the Fourth of July and she refused," Towns recalled. "She would always say, 'You know Daddy didn't celebrate that day.' "
Towns said Polk tried unsuccessfully until his death to get a pension.
"He had a lot of people, black and white, helping him, but he never got his pension," she said.