Austin Groves, A Vintage Vignette

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Austin Groves
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
January 17, 2011

The Austin Groves Cemetery, designated as site 67-2 on Redstone Arsenal maps, is in the valley between Hatton Mountain and Bradford Mountain. That is a heavily wooded portion of Test Area 6, near the southern end of Anderson Road and to the east toward the western bank of Indian Creek. The location is only a little over a mile northeast from Triana. The cemetery is large enough to hold several hundred graves, if full. There are many grave depressions, but little indication of being full. The site may have been associated with a community or church in the distant past, or it may have been used as the “black” cemetery for Triana in that town's most affluent period. Obviously, to have a cemetery of this size, the immediate area must have supported a significant population. Since the confluence of two creeks is close, there would have been an ample water supply to support a large community.

The only inscribed marker in the cemetery has the name Austin Groves on it. It is a military tombstone provided by the Veterans Administration, but there are a few more graves set off by uninscribed fieldstones. The only information on the tombstone is the name plus “Co. A, 42nd U.S.C.T.” There is a Madison County marriage license for Austin Groves to Kate Moore, dated 20 March 1871, but no other data that can be definitely attributed to her has been found.

As research was undertaken into the public records of Austin Groves, it became apparent that the name was often misunderstood by the clerks, who probably phonetically spelled what they thought they heard in the rural black pronunciations. There was no Groves family as such in the 1880 census of Madison County. However, an entry for “Austin Groors” at age 32, born in Alabama, is almost certainly the record for the Austin Groves of the cemetery. First of all, the given name “Austin” was rarely used during the period. Secondly, that census page contains many of the families known to have inhabited the area that became arsenal lands around the cemetery.

The “Austin Groors” listed in the 1880 census had a wife recorded at age 28 as “Parilia”, not “Kate” per the 1871 marriage license. It may be that her name was actually Parilia Kate Moore, but that is only conjecture. Kate may have also died or otherwise departed, and Parilia may have been Austin's second wife. The 1870 census in southwestern Jackson County shows an unmarried Austin Groves as age 28 and born in Georgia (around 1842).

Madison County Deed Book ZZ recorded that Austin Groves and his wife (no name given) on February 25 of 1875 borrowed $75 from Thomas Jamar against all of the cotton, corn, and other crops that Austin might grow that year on the “Lewis Plantation”. That would have been the land of Meriwether Anderson Lewis (1809-1861), located at the south end of the International Airport runways today. It is still unknown when Austin died, since the tombstone has no dates inscribed. However, some of Austin's Civil War experiences can be surmised from his unit’s history, documented in the “Official Records of the War of the Rebellion”. These are Union accounts compiled from written correspondences during the war. Company A of the 42nd United States Colored Infantry (U.S. Colored Troops or “U.S.C.T.”, per the tombstone) was enlisted at Chattanooga and remained there throughout the war – at least for the time that the company existed, from October of 1864 to June of 1865. The only excursions were two 15-mile marches to “Gordon’s Mill” and back, giving a total march of 30 miles twice. The remainder of the time was given to labor on fortifications of the post and “garrison duty” or “fatigue duty”, maintaining the “Sanitary Gardens” (latrines). As the Union correspondence showed, the company consisted of black men considered to be invalids or otherwise unfit for regular combat field duties. While the nature of any such disability is today unknown, Austin Groves now rests in a very peaceful setting, with the war and old plantation system long gone.

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