DAHLONEGA — Isaac Rucker escaped slavery in North Georgia and fled to Knoxville, Tenn., where he joined the Union Army’s black forces.
After the Civil War, he returned home and lived out the rest of his days, his body buried atop a hill at Mount Hope Cemetery in Dahlonega. A former Confederate sergeant signed for Rucker to get his federal pension.
The irony doesn’t stop there.
Tim Ragland, commander of the Dahlonega-based Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp 1860, is trying to set up a ceremony with the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War to honor Rucker.
“Even though I’m a descendant of Confederates, I find it amazing that not only was this guy from here, was held as a slave, but he fought for the Union and then came back,” Ragland said, speaking Sunday at the gravesite.
Ragland came across the grave when doing some research for articles on Civil War history.
“It was after a real heavy frost last fall, and I looked over here and noticed that the stone had a federal shield (etched) on it,” he said. “I came over and scraped off some of the lichen and stuff that was growing on it.”
He began researching the information he pulled from the headstone.
Rucker was a corporal in Company G of the 1st U.S. Colored Troops, Heavy Artillery.
Black troops made up a large part of the Union Army during the Civil War, with the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry perhaps the best-known unit. That group suffered huge losses in leading the Union assault on Fort Wagner, S.C., a battle dramatized in the popular movie “Glory.”
“What we know about Rucker himself is he was a slave and was held by a family, yet to be determined, over in the Mount Olive district of the county close to White County,” Ragland said.
“Somewhere along the line, he escaped and wound up going to Knoxville, where he signed up (with Union black troops).”
His unit’s “biggest claim to fame was they were one of the artillery groups that repulsed (Confederate) Gen. John Bell Hood in the Battle of Decatur (in Alabama),” Ragland said.
“Very little is known about the group after that ... except that (Rucker) came home, which I find utterly surprising,” he said. “The man ... moved back to a town (and lived among) a whole bunch of people that fought on the other side of the war.”
By Ragland’s research, Mount Hope contains the grave of just one other Union soldier, while some 60-plus Confederates are buried in the cemetery.
Buried next to Rucker is his wife, Mary Stephens Rucker, who died March 11, 1937.
“These two never had children, as I understand it. The children they had were hers from a previous marriage,” Ragland said.
Ragland said he contacted the Educational Foundation and Museum of Beulah Rucker in Gainesville to see if there might be a connection between Isaac Rucker and Beulah, a black education pioneer of children in Gainesville-Hall County.
No connection could be made.
Rojene Bailey, volunteer executive director of the museum, said he hadn’t heard of Isaac Rucker.
Ragland also contacted Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War about a ceremony, possibly in September, honoring Rucker and his military service.
“He must have been a very highly thought-of man here,” Ragland said.
One person he contacted was Brad Quinlin, a Sons of the Union member and graves register for Georgia and South Carolina.
“This is perfect timing because I’ve been working on USCT (soldiers buried) in Marietta National Cemetery,” Quinlin said.
A ceremony recognizing Rucker is an example of how the two Civil War groups “can work together and do the (very) ceremony for why our two groups were formed,” he said.
“We are doing the exact thing that they wanted us to do, and to be able to do it together is really the ultimate of praise and remembrance for these men.”