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  • Jan Johnson & Jeff Hansen

John Hardison (c.1840-1904)

John Van Buren Hardison began life as a slave in Tennessee, fought in the Union Army during the Civil War, and relocated his family to Topeka in 1879 as part of the Exoduster migration. In his final years, Hardison carried the awful burdens of extreme poverty and physical incapacity, escaping them only through a horrific, fiery death.

Train to Murfreesboro

John Hardison may have been part of a scene just like this one, which depicts Union Army recruits boarding a train for Murfreesboro, Tennessee. As a new enlistee in 1863, Hardison was assigned to a regiment whose initial posting was at Murfreesboro. (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, May 7, 1864, p109.)


The first mention in the post of a person buried at Ritchie Cemetery

is highlighted in red bold italic font.

The antebellum years

John Van Buren Hardison was born into slavery in Maury County, Tennessee about 1840. The county—outlined in red in the map below—is part of the region known as Middle Tennessee, an area important in the family history of many people buried at Ritchie Cemetery. Described by historian Robert McKenzie as the “garden of the state” in the mid-1800s, the Middle Tennessee region was characterized by its production of corn, wheat, tobacco, and livestock.

Tennessee map showing Maury County location

The man we now call John Hardison did not answer to that name originally. His mother named him John Van Buren, and he was called Van Buren throughout childhood. Upon reaching young adulthood, he took the Hardison surname.

Soon after Hardison’s birth, his original enslaver, John McDaniel, “gave” the infant to his daughter Hulda, who would one day claim credit for raising him. She married her first husband, Joshua Fox, in 1842 and was widowed approximately a decade later. Hulda (sometimes spelled “Huldah”) remarried in 1853, this time to a man named Samuel L. Hardison. The young John Van Buren spent the balance of his youth on the Hardison plantation. By the time he became a Union soldier in 1863, he had decided on John Hardison as the formal name he wanted to be known by. Into at least the 1880s, however, various sources often identified him as Van Hardison.

Map showing location of Samuel Hardison property

This excerpt from an 1878 map of Maury County, Tennessee, shows Samuel Hardison’s property (circled in red). It was located in the county’s Civil District 3 and nearly straddled the Maury/Marshall county line to the east. Source: “Map of Maury County, Tennessee,” 1878, by D.G. Beers & Co. Accessed online through the Library of Congress.


Very little is known about Hardison’s parents, but they remained a presence in his life into adulthood. His mother Lila—almost certainly a slave held by McDaniel at the time John was born—lived in John’s household in 1870 and was among the family members who would later move to Kansas. For a time immediately after the war, John’s father Abram farmed Hardison land, and John worked with him, at least briefly. John also had siblings, among them: a brother who moved to Texas; a sister in Tennessee; and a sister Dililly or Delila (Dee) who migrated to Kansas with her husband Haywood Lewis.

The 17th Infantry Regiment, USCT

Hardison enlisted in the Union Army on November 24, 1863, and was assigned to Company I of the 17th Infantry Regiment, United States Colored Troops (USCT). He served until the regiment was mustered out in Nashville on April 25, 1866. Hardison entered the army as a private and was discharged as a 1st sergeant, an indication that he displayed leadership and organizational skills while in service.

Two documents from Hardison's USCT service record

These two documents are from Hardison’s Compiled Military Service Record, accessed through They provide basic information about his personal characteristics and background, as well as his enlistment, military rank history, and discharge. Later records suggest that he was taller, at 5’10”, than the height given here.


As noted in the Army records above, Hardison enlisted in Stevenson, Alabama. So why there, instead of closer to home? A possible (and perhaps most likely) explanation is that he was one of the laborers in northern Alabama working to build and maintain fortifications for the Union Army, which occupied much of Tennessee and northern Alabama at the time.

Many slaves in and near Union-occupied areas fled their enslavers’ property and sought refuge in Union camps. Some of them willingly worked as laborers for the Union Army. However, to meet its substantial labor requirements, the Federals also forced some slaves into physical labor through a practice called impressment. There are clues in Hardison’s Civil War pension file suggesting that before his enlistment he was put to work by the army through impressment. Decades after the war, Samuel Hardison said that John Van Buren Hardison was “...taken away from home by Federal soldiers in times of the late war.” Samuel’s wife Hulda and two other acquaintances from that time made similar statements. One of them, Mr. McLean, said, “I was here when the Federal soldiers took him off about 1863….”

Black workers building stockade, Stevenson AL

In this sketch from Harper’s Weekly, Black laborers are shown building a stockade in the Stevenson, Alabama area in the summer of 1862. The Union Army occupied northern Alabama, and constructed a number of fortifications to defend important rail lines. Stevenson was at the junction of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, and the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad. “Erection of Stockades for Defense by Negroes,” Harper’s Weekly, August 30, 1862, page 558. Accessed via Internet Archive.


In the fall of 1863, the Union Army’s Department of the Cumberland mounted a campaign to enlist Blacks as soldiers in the Union-occupied areas of Tennessee and northern Alabama. The recruitment office in Stevenson was one of many set up for that purpose. Approximately 300 Blacks who worked along rail lines in northern Alabama enlisted and were the first to be assigned to the newly-organized 17th Infantry Regiment USCT.

Most of the specific details about Hardison’s service are unknown, but summarizing the history of his regiment provides a worthwhile, if general, framework for his experiences as a soldier.

The 17th Regiment USCT was formally organized in Nashville in December 1863, and initially posted at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. In April 1864, the regiment was ordered to Nashville, where it reported to the Chief Quartermaster. After the Union Army gained control of Nashville in February 1862, the city became “...the foremost center of communication, transportation, and supply for Union military activities in the Western Theater.” Inner and outer lines of earthwork fortifications were constructed to defend the city. The quartermaster’s corps was responsible for the inner line, which protected the heart of the city, including military supply depots and hospitals. Some of the 10 companies in the 17th Regiment stayed in Nashville to guard commissary depots, but others were detached to guard vital locations in the surrounding area—including Gallatin, Saundersville, Franklin, Murfreesboro, and landing points along the Cumberland River.

A major departure from routine duties awaited the 17th Regiment in December 1864. In late November or early December, the regimental companies assigned to outlying areas were recalled to Nashville, and the entire regiment was among those which began preparations for battle. The Confederacy’s Army of Tennessee, led by Lt. General John Bell Hood, had approached from the south with the objective of gaining control of Nashville.

The Battle of Nashville—fought over the two-day period of December 15-16, 1864—was the last major battle in the western theater of the Civil War, and it ended in a decisive victory for the Union Army. Engaging Black troops in a combat role, rather than garrison or fatigue duty, was still controversial among Union generals at the time. However, eight USCT regiments, including the 17th, were organized into two brigades which were among the combatants in the Battle of Nashville. The two Black brigades and three White brigades were assigned to the Provisional Detachment (District of the Etowah) under the command of Major General James Steedman.

Hardison’s regiment was in the First Colored Brigade, which saw frontline action on December 15, the first day of the battle. The 17th Regiment was one of the units ordered to mount a diversionary assault on the Confederates’ far right flank. In their first encounter with the enemy, the men of the 17th overpowered Confederate rifle pits. Doing this, however, cleared the way for them to unwittingly head into an ambush by Texas Brigade soldiers who had built what is now known as Granbury’s Lunette. The lunette—an earthen field fortification armed with artillery and, in this case, manned by 344 seasoned soldiers—had been constructed the day before, unbeknownst to the senior Union officers who had prepared the battle plans. With the lunette still hidden from their view, the Black soldiers continued their advance until they neared a deep, impassable ravine which had been cut in the terrain for a rail line. It was then that the Confederates sprang their trap. They opened fire and poured out of the lunette with fierce intensity. Left with little choice, some of the Union troops jumped into the railroad cut to avoid Rebel fire, while the rest scrambled to fall back—incurring many casualties in the process. Undaunted by its losses, the 17th Regiment then regrouped and took another position, where they “kept up a sharp skirmish with the enemy till night, when he withdrew from our immediate front.”

Battle of Nashville — battlefield map

The area circled in yellow on this Battle of Nashville map shows the general location of Granbury’s Lunette, where soldiers in Hardison’s regiment advanced and were ambushed. The red lines and text show positions of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, while Union positions are in black. The entirety of the battlefield map can be viewed on the Library of Congress website.


At the end of the day on December 15th, the casualty toll on the 17th Regiment was heavy. Sixteen were killed (14 Black enlisted and 2 White officers), and 68 wounded (64 Black enlisted and 4 White officers). According to Colonel William Shafter, the regiment’s commanding officer, many of the wounded later died.

While the outcome of the Granbury’s Lunette ambush was costly for the 17th Regiment soldiers, their courage served notice to the skeptics that Black soldiers would not only fight, they would fight with valor. This was further reinforced through the actions of other Black troops during both days of the battle. The two-day casualty count for the eight USCT regiments participating in the Battle of Nashville was 630, including 98 killed, 508 wounded, and 24 missing—all but 24 of whom were Black.

Gary Burke with Battle of Nashville historical marker

In October 2021, a historical marker was installed at the Granbury’s Lunette site in recognition of the attack by Black troops on December 15, 1864. Two of the three brigades participating in the diversionary attack were African American.

Shown here with the marker is Gary Burke, whose ancestor also served in the 17th Infantry Regiment USCT. (photo courtesy of Gary Burke)

For about ten days immediately after the Battle of Nashville, the 17th Regiment was among the troops who chased General Hood’s retreating force to the Tennessee River. While still in the field, the regiment was next briefly assigned to join in the search for General Lyon’s cavalry unit near Decatur, Alabama. The 17th Regiment was among those ordered to return to Nashville on January 1, 1865.

Hardison’s Civil War pension file gives no indication that he was wounded during the Battle of Nashville. However, he later claimed to be troubled by rheumatism that may (or may not) have dated to wartime service. One of his fellow soldiers, Manuel Young, attributed the onset of Hardison’s rheumatism to exposure while “on the march from Lebanon Tenn. some time in January 1865.” Another member of his regiment, Thomas Allen, said that Hardison complained about his feet and legs whenever they would "go out on a march," and that he would sometimes use turpentine and coal oil as a treatment. Allen also stated that he and Hardison would often soak their feet in spring water “when we would come off a march.” Yet another member of the regiment, Henry Mastin (spelling uncertain), said that Hardison was “very much exposed doing guard duty during that winter of 1864-65.” Mastin further mentioned that Hardison often wore a red flannel shirt “on account of the rheumatism,” which he recalled because the standard government issue for shirts was either white or gray.

On November 11, 1865—after the war ended, but before Hardison’s regiment was mustered out—the Nashville Daily Union ran a short, complimentary article entitled “The 17th Colored Infantry,” an excerpt from which is given below.

The barracks of this splendid regiment of colored troops is on the west side of the Buena Vista Pike, in the north-western suburbs of the city….The quarters are neat two story frame houses, well white washed, and kept clean and in good order. The parade ground is large...and one of the best we have ever seen. This regiment is under the command of Col. Shafter, who feels a becoming pride in the maintainance [sic] of its high reputation as one of the best drilled fighting regiments left to the service. In the bloody battles in front of Nashville, which resulted in the utter route [sic] of Hood...the 17th participated, and won distinction for its efficiency and bravery.

John Hardison was discharged in April 1866, when the entire regiment was mustered out in Nashville.

After the War

Just when Hardison married Martha Scott is unknown, but one account suggests their marriage occurred before he was discharged from the army. Their first child, Elijah, was born in Tennessee about 1866. The couple lived in Nashville briefly after the war, but returned to Maury County for the remaining dozen or so years they lived in Tennessee. For part of that time, John Hardison either worked for Samuel Hardison or worked some of his land.

There was at least a four- or five-year interval, though, between 1870 and 1874, when Hardison moved several miles north, to Maury County’s Civil District 25. According to Samuel Hardison, John moved north to live on land owned by James M. Billington. Samuel added that he thought John “...raised crops by himself.” This would be consistent with the agriculture schedule in the 1870 census, which indicates that Hardison rented the land that he farmed. His farming arrangement with Billington may have incorporated some variation of sharecropping, i.e. earnings based on a percentage of the cash value of harvested crops.

The 1870 federal census for Maury County’s 25th Civil District has two sets of puzzling entries in both the enumeration record and the agricultural schedule. In the enumeration record, there are two households that could be the John Hardison family. On page 6 of the original record, the “Van Harderson” household has seven members, six with the “Harderson” surname. On page 8, the “Van Harderon” household has eight members, also including six with the family surname. The entries were made by the same enumerator on August 19 and 20, 1870.

1870 Maury County census record

Excerpts from the Maury County Civil District 25 federal census in 1870 show enumeration entries for the “Van Harderson” and “Van Harderon” households. Headings for the last two columns on the far right are “Cannot Read” and “Cannot Write.”

At least four of the individuals named in the two households appear to refer to the same people, including Van (aka John), his wife Martha, their son John E. (later called Elijah), and Lila, the elder John’s mother. The other two family members would likely be Lila’s daughters. John is known to have had a sister named “Dillily,” which could easily be the same person as “Delila” in the Harderon entry.

The agricultural schedule in 1870 (Schedule 3 of the census), also has two entries of interest—one clearly spelled “Van Hardison,” and the other, as transcribed by, spelled “Van Harelorson.” The handwriting for the surname of the latter is only partially legible. In both listings, the farmer worked 40 acres, but the details are different.

Map showing Billington and Hardison locations

The explanation has to be one of two things, either 1) the census entries refer to two different individuals, or 2) the same man and family is counted twice. The fact that at least four family members appear to be the same in each of the household enumeration entries would point to the double-counting explanation. James Billington owned land in two parts of the 25th district, as shown on the map on the right, so perhaps Hardison farmed parcels in both places and different members of the household supplied the census information.

This excerpt is from the same Maury County map cited earlier, but it shows a different area—including most of District 25 and part of District 3, to the south. Circled in red are locations of land owned by J. M. Billington and Samuel Hardison. The distance between the Hardison land and the two Billington properties is estimated at less than 10 miles. Both districts are adjacent to Marshall County on the east.

In 1874, there were short mentions of Van Hardison in the Rally Hill and Flat Creek neighborhood sections of the Columbia Herald and Mail, a Maury County newspaper. Both neighborhoods were in Civil District 25. As reported on page 3 of the June 5, 1874 issue, Hardison lost his personal property because of a house fire. He was living on Billington land at the time. Another mention, from page 3 of the March 6, 1874 issue, is more surprising, if it refers to the same man. According to the report, the Flat Creek neighborhood had “a colored school taught by Van Hardison, who is a very nice, clever, colored man.”

There is reason to believe that John Hardison may have received some education. The 1870 census record shown earlier includes “cannot read” and “cannot write” fields as the columns on the far right side of the clip. One of the Van Hardison entries indicated—through an absence of tick marks in those columns—that he could both read and write; the other reported that he could read, but not write. Census records in later years did not confirm his literacy, but several documents in his Civil War pension file show his signature, and all of them are consistent in their handwriting. Also, the fact that he was promoted to sergeant and then first sergeant may have relevance if some degree of literacy was a factor in the Union Army’s promotion decisions.

John Hardison signature

John Hardison’s Civil War pension file includes several documents that were signed by him. The signature handwriting is consistent among the documents, and differs in each case from other handwritten entries on the documents.

People who knew Hardison in Tennessee gave brief hints of other activities he was involved in during his postwar years, before moving to Kansas. Henry Miller, a fellow soldier and neighbor, recalled that Hardison “went to preaching after the war.” Zach Hardison said that John “worked regularly at farm work and hauling logs, which is about as heavy and hard work as one can find.” Another acquaintance, John McLean, said that he had “rolled logs with him several times.”

Throughout the initial postwar years, the Hardison family was growing. By the late 1870s, John and Martha had at least five children, including: Elijah, born circa 1866; William, circa 1873; Eugenie, circa 1874; George, circa 1877; and Martha, circa 1878. The gap between Elijah and William raises the possibility that there may have been other offspring who did not survive infancy or early childhood.

A New Home in Kansas

In the fall of 1879, members of the John Hardison family boarded a steamboat and became part of the historic Exoduster migration. Thousands of southern Blacks moved to Kansas during the migration, and they came in especially large numbers during the peak period of 1879-1880. In the broadest sense, they shared a goal in common with all migrants—they faced difficult circumstances in their former home and sought a new place that offered greater opportunities to thrive.

For the Exodusters, the particulars were embedded in the harsh realities experienced by Black residents in former slave-holding states as postwar Reconstruction yielded to the new oppressive order of the Jim Crow era. They faced daunting obstacles at every turn—economically, socially, educationally, politically, and in some cases, even personal safety. Because the Free State forces had fought and prevailed in the Bloody Kansas battles leading to statehood, Kansas represented an alluring beacon of hope for the Exodusters. But that beacon was one that dimmed considerably over time for many who made the journey.

By coming to Topeka, the Hardisons were upending their lives in a major way, but they were not alone. Some of their Tennessee neighbors and acquaintances also made the move. Among the new Topeka residents that John had known in Tennessee were: Alford Wallace, his friend since boyhood, who arrived the following spring; Mary Baker and her husband Newton; Henry Dinwiddie; Jefferson Scott (future father of attorney Elisha Scott); Susan Harding; and Haywood Lewis, John’s brother-in-law. Almost certainly there were others, given the proximity of Hardison’s former home in Maury County to the adjacent 10th Civil District in Marshall County—the migration origin for at least eight family groups represented at Ritchie Cemetery.

When the federal census was taken in June 1880, the Hardisons were living on Lane Street on the southwestern edge of Topeka, an area that would soon be known as Tennessee Town. The household in 1880 included John, his wife Martha, and their five children. As if resettlement in totally new surroundings wasn’t difficult enough, there was a notation in the 1880 census which revealed an even bigger worry—Martha Hardison was ill with cancer. Her illness proved terminal, for she died in the spring of 1883 at the age of 41.

1880 Topeka census record

This excerpt from the 1880 federal census shows the entry for the Hardison family in Topeka. John was still using “Van” as his first name, and the enumerator counted seven family members in the “Hardinson” household. Martha’s illness was also noted. The record was accessed via

Two years after Martha’s death, the 1885 Kansas State Census enumeration for the Hardisons reflected not only the loss of Martha, but also the addition of John’s mother Lila, and the departure of John’s oldest son Elijah, who had married. John was still the household’s only breadwinner, and he supported the family by working as a teamster. He remained a widower until January 1886, when he married Anna Royster at the Mount Olive African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church; the ceremony was performed by George W. Patton, the church’s pastor at the time. Anna was one of several Royster family members who had come to Topeka from Williamson County, Tennessee. John and Anna would have at least four children: Arthur, born circa 1885; Lena, circa 1887; Johnnie, 1889; and Bettie, circa 1894.

Sometime in the fall of 1890, Hardison’s life changed forever when he suffered an apparent stroke that left him partially paralyzed and mostly unable to speak. Anna spoke of his condition in January 1896:

He was paralyzed five years ago last fall, since which time he has been like a child and not able to talk. His mind has not been right. Sometimes he understands but can’t reply to what is asked him….I don’t know what caused his paralysis….He was troubled a good deal with dizzy spells for about three months and one day when working at his trade laying stone, he fell down and was brought home and he has always been the same since.

The 1890s held other tragedies for the Hardisons. Several months before John’s stroke, in January 1890, the Topeka City Clerk recorded the death of a five-month-old baby, Johnnie Hardison, at the family’s home on King Street. Three years later, John’s eldest son Elijah was killed in a coal mining accident. Only 27 years old, Elijah was survived by a wife, Lulu (aka Lula), and two children. Then, in December 1898, the Topeka City Clerk recorded another Hardison

death—John’s 25-year-old son William, who died of pneumonia.

John Hardison’s stroke proved to be permanently disabling, which placed the household under enormous economic stress. Insights into the family’s circumstances can be gained from the Tennessee Town Census conducted by Topeka’s Central Congregational Church circa 1899. The purpose of the census was to collect information about neighborhood residents so the church could identify and help address social service needs that existed in the community. Two sets of information were documented—one based on individual residents and the other, based on household.

Below is an excerpt from the Tennessee Town Census showing information for individual members of the Hardison family living at 1175 Lane.

Excerpt from Tennessee Town Census

The first Hardison entry in the table is for Gladys, John’s granddaughter. She wasn’t part of John’s household, but lived with her mother Lulu, who had remarried after Elijah’s death. There were six family members in the John Hardison household when the census was taken, three of whom were working. Anna had become the primary wage-earner, bringing in $4 a week by doing laundry. Martha, aged 21, earned $2 a week doing unspecified work, while Arthur, aged 15, added $1 a week by tending horses at a stable. Their combined income of $7 a week is the equivalent of $217 a week in 2020 dollars. Not shown in the table is the $12 a month Civil War pension benefit that Hardison had been receiving since May 1891.

Two of the family members were in poor health, including John and his daughter Martha. Anna and the two teenagers were in good health and one—the youngest child—was in fair health. The two youngest children, Lena and Betty, attended school.

The household portion of the Tennessee Town Census fills in a few more details. The family lived in a rented, unpainted, three-room house. They kept a small garden, but had no trees, shrubs, or flowers in their yard. Their household assets were estimated at $25 ($775 in 2020 dollars), and their annual household income at $444 ($13,764 in 2020 dollars).

The census also indicated that the Hardisons received aid from the Shawnee County Poor Commissioner and the police matron. An article in the December 31, 1898 issue of the Topeka Daily Capital, “Helping the Poor,” describes the types of aid usually provided. A.J. Hale, the Poor Commissioner, had an office in the basement of the county courthouse, where applicants came to make their requests for allocations of coal, and for provisions distributed from the county storehouse. In 1898, the commodities supplied by the county included such items as “flour, sugar, beans, salt pork, coffee, tea, soap and oatmeal.” The police matron also played a role in aiding Topeka’s needy citizens. Her work included soliciting and distributing donations of clothing and household necessities—sometimes through general appeals and distributions, but sometimes tailored to meet the needs of specific clients.

In the 1900 federal census, taken in June, there were still six family members in the house on Lane Street, but none of them reported an occupation. By early fall 1900, the family had moved to Carbondale, just south of Topeka in Osage County. The reasons for the move are not known, but Anna’s sister and brother-in-law, Sophia and Thomas Johnson, lived in Carbondale and that may have been a factor. The family’s lot in life had not improved; two of the Hardisons’ acquaintances in Carbondale stated in an affidavit related to Anna's widow's pension application that “...they were exceptionally poor people."

The unthinkable happened on a windy day in March 1904—John Hardison, age 64, lost his life in a house fire. Anna had left the house to meet with her brother-in-law. The day before, Anna's brother-in-law Thomas Johnson had gone to Lyndon, the county seat, to submit a petition signed by citizens of Carbondale requesting that the Osage County Commission provide aid for the Hardison family. Anna was anxious to hear about the trip and its outcome. When she left to meet with Thomas, one of the Hardison daughters stayed home with John. The daughter left briefly to go to a neighbor’s house across the street. She was not gone long, but a terrible accident happened in her absence. No one knew for sure what caused the fire, but the local news account of his death speculated that he may have had a seizure that resulted in the stove toppling over.

The article reporting on his death also stated that John Hardison was buried at Topeka Cemetery, which is inaccurate. Hardison’s pension file includes an affidavit from George Kirkner, an undertaker in Carbondale, which affirms that he buried John Hardison at “Riche’s Cemetery adjacent to the town of Topeka, Kansas.” An excerpt is shown below.

Kirkner affidavit regarding burial of John Hardison

Kirkner’s affidavit is the only known documentation of John Hardison’s burial location. Kirkner’s statement went on to say that Osage County had paid the funeral costs because state law required that public funds be used to pay for final expenses, up to $50, of indigent, honorably discharged veterans of the Civil War.

After John’s death, Anna Hardison moved back to Topeka. In 1905, she and her children Arthur, Lena, and Bettie were living in a rental house next door to her nephew, John Johnson, and his wife Lizzie. Her nephew was better known as “Topeka Jack” Johnson, the community’s most prominent African American athlete during the very early years of the 20th century. He was a baseball player/manager, and also a boxer. One of the Hardisons—probably Arthur—was an outfielder for the 1906 Topeka Giants, a successful semi-professional Black barnstorming team managed by Topeka Jack.

Anna received a Civil War widow’s pension of $8 a month (with an additional $2 a month during the years that Bettie was under the age of 16). In some years, she also worked as a laundress or domestic, and her financial situation improved. By 1915, Anna owned a house at 1211 Lane, near her sister Della Williams; by 1916, she was able to afford electric service in her home.

Anna Royster Hardison died in 1918 at the age of 58. She also is buried at Ritchie Cemetery, presumably alongside John. As with most of the graves at the cemetery, those of John and Anna Hardison are unmarked.


1. Martha Hardison (John’s first wife), Lila Hardison (his mother), Elijah Hardison (his eldest son), and baby Johnnie Hardison are considered to be potential burials at Ritchie Cemetery because they all lived in Topeka and their burials were not recorded at any other Topeka Cemetery. It is possible that another Hardison child may be buried at Ritchie as well. The 1900 federal census indicated that Anna Hardison had borne five children, three of whom were living. Baby Johnnie accounts for one of the two who had died, but no record has been found regarding the other one.

2. Some members of Anna Hardison’s Royster family are at Ritchie Cemetery, including her sister Wilmarth Osteen, her brother-in-law’s father Wesley Osteen, and her nieces Mildred Royster and Ruby Royster. Anna’s niece Hettie Hickey and her brother-in-law David Williams were initially buried at Ritchie but later reinterred at Mount Auburn Cemetery. Anna’s mother Fannie Royster is a potential burial at Ritchie because her burial was not recorded at any other local cemetery.

3. Documents in Hardison’s Civil War pension file place him in or near Guthrie, Oklahoma during the period February-July 1890. His stay there was short-lived, however, and he soon returned to Topeka.

4. Our research did not reveal whether John Hardison was in one of the regimental companies assigned to detached service outside of Nashville. However, there are company-level records in the National Archives which probably contain this information.

5. The 1895 Kansas State Census counted John as a laborer, but based on the description of his condition by Anna and others, it seems unlikely that he would have been able to contribute much in the way of wage income.

6. George F. Patton, the minister who married John and Anna was the pastor at Mount Olive A.M.E. Church from the fall of 1885 until at least 1889. Before that, he was affiliated with churches in Burlingame and North Topeka. By 1892, he had relocated to Missouri and served congregations there until his death in 1903. After he died, his family returned to Topeka. Several Patton family members are buried at Ritchie Cemetery.

7. Another Civil War veteran, Charles Pillow, is buried at Ritchie Cemetery and he, too, fought in the Battle of Nashville. He will be featured in a future post.

8. Mary Baker was one of the Exodusters who knew Hardison in Tennessee. In January 1894, she was the midwife in the birth of John and Anna's daughter, Bettie. Mary Baker also is buried at Ritchie Cemetery.

9. Topeka Jack Johnson closed out Anna Hardison's affairs following her death in 1918. The Hardison pension file includes a few pieces of Topeka Jack correspondence, which may be of some incidental interest to researchers of early Black baseball. A typed letter by Topeka Jack dated July 1, 1919 is on the letterhead shown below.

Topeka Jack Johnson letterhead

The "Athletic Dept." isn't further identified. In 1919 Topeka Jack worked as a fireman in the Topeka Fire Department. During this period, he also is known to have provided physical conditioning instruction to a company in the Kansas National Guard (1918) and the Washburn football team (1920).


Source Notes

1. Much of the biographical information about John Hardison came from Hardison's Civil War pension file, including direct quotes by named individuals and information attributed to people he knew in Tennessee. A digital copy of the file containing 189 scanned pages was obtained from the National Archives. It includes documents from three time periods, including those relating to: 1) Hardison’s original application, which was granted in May 1891; 2) his application for an increase in benefit circa 1896, which apparently was not approved; and 3) the application for a widow’s pension filed by Anna after John’s death. The file identification information is: John Hardison (Sgt, Company I, 17 USCT Infantry), Pension Application No. 757143, Certificate No. 562768.

2. There is a vast amount of material to sift through to gain a contextual understanding of several key historical aspects related to John Hardison’s story. These include: 1) conditions in Tennessee during and immediately after the Civil War; 2) organization and deployment of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) regiments; 3) the Battle of Nashville; and 4) factors prompting the Exoduster migration, both generally and more specifically, the circumstances existing in Middle Tennessee. We do not have subject matter expertise in any of these areas, and would welcome corrections, insights, or additional information from those who do.

3. was used to access primary research records, including U.S. federal census records, Kansas State Census records, Topeka city directories, and Hardison’s Compiled Military Service Record. Source documentation is attached to individuals in the Ritchie Cemetery Project family tree created on as a research aid for this project.

4. Tina Cahalan Jones is producing an exceptional body of work about African American soldiers from Williamson County, Tennessee in her From Slaves to Soldiers and Beyond blog and Slaves To Soldiers website. Williamson County is one in a cluster of Middle Tennessee counties that had been home at one time to a number of family groups represented at Ritchie Cemetery. Although Jones’ emphasis is on soldiers, her research scope is not limited to their military service. She also documents broader stories about their lives and the historical forces that impacted them, including this post about Exodusters.

5. Below is a sampling of specific sources, most of them pertaining to Tennessee, the Civil War, and African American regiments. Other sources identified and/or linked to in the text of the blog post are not repeated here. Articles with a JSTOR reference can be accessed free online, but an account is required.

Ash, Stephen V., “Civil War Occupation,” Tennessee Encyclopedia, website published by the Tennessee Historical Society.

Coker, Paul E., “’Is This the Fruit of Freedom?’ Black Civil War Veterans in Tennessee,” doctoral dissertation, University of Tennessee, 2011.

Dyer, Frederick. Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, Volume 3, Regimental Histories, United States Colored Troops, 17th Regiment Infantry, page 1726, scanned image #742, accessed through Hathitrust Digital Library.

Franklin, John Hope, “James T. Ayers, Civil War Recruiter,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Vol. 40, No. 3 (Sep 1947), pp. 267-297, accessed through JSTOR.

“General Order No. 143: Creation of the U.S. Colored Troops,” May 22, 1863; Orders and Circulars, 1797-1910; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780s-1917; Record Group 94; National Archives.

Lovett, Bobby L., “The Negro’s Civil War in Tennessee,” The Journal of Negro History, Vol. 61, No. 1 (January 1976), pp. 36-50, accessed through JSTOR.

McDonough, James L., “Tennessee and the Civil War,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Vol. 54, No. 3, Fall 1995, accessed through JSTOR.

McKenzie, Robert Tracy, “Freedmen and the Soil in the Upper South: The Reorganization of Tennessee Agriculture, 1865-1880,” The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 59, No. 1 (February 1993), pp. 63-84, accessed through JSTOR.

“Order of the President for Enlisting Slaves in Maryland, Missouri, and Tennessee,” Louisville Daily Journal, Nov 4, 1863, page 3. (Text of General Order No. 329 issued by the War Department on October 3, 1863.)

Report of Col. William R. Shafter, Seventeenth U.S. Colored Troops, of operations December 15-16, 1864,” United States War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, pp. 538-539., “17th U.S. Colored Infantry.”

Smith, Samuel D., Fred M. Prouty, and Benjamin C. Nance, “A Survey of Civil War Period Military Sites in Middle Tennessee,” Tennessee Department of Conservation, Division of Archaeology, Report of Investigations No. 7, 1990.

Trudeau, Noah Andre. Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War, 1862-1865. Little, Brown & Company, 1998.

Williams, George Washington. A History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1865. United States: Harper & Bros., 1888.


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