Services held at Zion for Unknown Black Union Soldier
Zion Baptist Church in Marietta led tributes and laid to rest the remains of a young African Union soldier during a special ceremony last week. The event to honor and recognize the soldier who died 157 years ago fighting for the Union during the civil war included a full military ceremony, complete with a 35-star U.S. Flag draped over the casket. This was one of several events Zion Heritage Museum sponsored in the unknown soldier’s honor. Other tributes included an original play and singing of spirituals by Dr. Orel Moses.
The chair member of the Old Zion Heritage Community, LaMuriel Adams, directed the ceremony. She later spoke to Channel 2 Action News about the event saying even though she did not know this soldier, it was important to pay tribute to his sacrifice and the sacrifices of other African American Union Soldiers. Said Adams, “Probably a lot of people had no idea the number of African Americans who participated in the civil war. So, this was kind of like a history story of the dear soldier.”
Local Historiographer Brad Quinlan wanted to learn more about the young man’s saga and led the efforts to identify him after a century and a half. Quinlan’s research led him to believe the soldier was killed at some point during Union General William T. Sherman’s march across the Chattahoochee River on the way to Atlanta in 1864. Through the years, Quinlan has been able to identify 258 of the men who died in 1864 through his research.
The Chattahoochee River in Cobb County was the location where bone fragments and part of a uniform were discovered in 1951. Quinlan acquired those items a few years ago from a collector, which allowed him to move forward in trying to determine its history.
In describing the items, Quinlan said, “These are union saco buttons and this is Union breast plate it goes on a crate box. A Springfield rifle was found with him, but that’s been lost.” He went on to describe a confederate mini ball that was lodged in the right cranium, which led to understanding the circumstances of how the soldier was killed. Forensic work, including DNA testing, allowed Quinlan to confirm the identify as a man of African Descent, whom he described as one of Sherman’s “stretcher bearers” during the war who carried wounded men from the battlefield. Quinlan was able to narrow down the soldier’s identity to one of four men. He believes the soldier was a man named Samuel Tucker, but has not yet confirmed this theory.
His research will continue in trying to identify the remains. Quinlan wants to be 100% sure of the soldier’s name so that his descendants can honor him as well. He believes the National Archives Research Center in Washington, D.C. can assist him in making an official identification. “Maybe we can find that document or letter that says his name and then on the national cemetery I can change his headstone from unknown to his name,” Quinlan said.
According to the National Archives, about 179,000 Black men served in the U.S Army by the end of the civil war. Nearly 40,000 of those soldiers died, many without recognition or formal commendation.