John W. Pollard, 83rd USCT (2nd Kansas Colored Infantry)


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John Hartwell

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[https://www.loc.gov/resource/ppmsca.56879/]
Inscribed on verso: "J.W. Pollard, May 30, 1906, after parade.
From John W. Pollard to his brother in law Sanford Taylor."
John William Pollard was born in Farquhar, Virginia, in 1846, to free colored parents. Family tradition has it that his grandfather had been freed during the last year of the Revolutionary War. In 1854, fearing for their safety because of ever more vocal threats against free blacks, his mother sent John and his sister Mary to live with relatives in Kansas. It was an ironic decision, for the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed that same year, and Kansas soon became a bloody battleground.

Somehow, young Pollard survived “Bleeding Kansas,” and was living on a farm outside Leavenworth when Kansas entered the Union as a free state in 1861. Two years later, 15-year-old John went to Fort Leavenworth and enlisted as drummer in Company F, of the Second Kansas Colored Infantry. Since he was under age, he changed his name to Jackson Ridgeway, and enlisted at the same time (Sept. 8, 1863) as his friend, 18-year-old Joseph Ridgeway, whom he claimed was his brother -- they claimed to be former slaves, and had no other living relatives.

The regiment was in garrison at Fort Smith until March 24, 1864, when they participated in the ill-fated Camden expedition … an attempt to link up with Banks’ forces and capture Shreveport.

Not long after returning to Fort Smith, the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry fought their most notable engagement: the Battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Ark. Just days before, Confederate forces at the Battle of Poison Spring, Ark., captured and then killed many members of the First Kansas Colored Regiment. The men of the Second vowed revenge and some of them charged into the conflict shouting “Remember Poison Springs.” Just before the battle at Jenkins Ferry, Colonel Crawford was told by the commanding general that the Second Kansas Colored Infantry would not fight. It is said that Crawford, "in language much more emphatic than Christian, replied that they could and would go as far as it was possible for any troops to go." During the battle the Second Colored became the first black Union soldiers to successfully capture a Confederate field artillery battery. In doing so they also took a number of prisoners.

On December 13, 1864 the Second Kansas Colored Infantry was redesignated as the 83rd U.S. Colored Troops (U.S.C.T.) The regiment was assigned garrison duty at military outposts in Union-occupied areas of Arkansas for the remainder of the war, but saw considerable action against both guerrillas and Indians.. They were mustered-out at Camden, Ark., on October 9th, 1865; and finally discharged in Leavenworth, Kansas on November 27th. The Colonel’s final report said:

"The discipline of the Second Kansas Colored Infantry was excellent, and at all times and under all circumstances​
the men of the regiment performed their duty well and faithfully--shrank from no danger, avoided no peril."​

During all those 26 months, drummer Jackson Ridgeway was consistently reported as on duty with his company.

Following the war, John W. Pollard (now under his real name), was inspired by Hiram Rhodes Revel (who would become the first Afro-American Senator, to attend Oberlin College in Ohio, and become a lawyer. But, a bad case of smallpox interrupted his education. While ill, he found all his carefully saved army pay and bounties had been stolen, leaving him penniless.

Pollard soon took up barbering, as one of the few trades open to blacks, soon securing ‘a chair’ in a big St. Louis hotel. Later he moved back to Leavenworth, and then on to Mexico, Mo., where he set up his own shop, which shortly became the busiest establishment in town with five chairs and a bath-house. In 1874, he married Catherine Amanda Hughes, a young woman of African, Sioux, and French descent. The couple would have nine children. When the first came of school age, Pollard refused to send him to the local segregated school, and hired a tutor. But, as racial tensions escalated, John Pollard sold his business and property in Mexico, and moved to Illinois. They settled in Rogers Park, a well-to-do, all white community just south of Evanstown. He opened a new barber shop, and the family prospered.

You can read John W. Pollard’s post-war story in much more detail in the biography of the 8th of his 9 children: Frederick Douglas “Fritz” Pollard, Breaking the Color Barrier: the story of the first african-american NFL head coach. The other children also achieved success in their chosen endeavors, most became college graduates, and firmly established themselves in the rising black middle class. John Pollard had insisted that each of his sons work in his barbershop, and learn the trade, so that "when you go out into the world, you'll never be broke -- there'll always be work for a barber."
 

John Hartwell

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