By Peter H. Clark
"Previous to that date the proffered aid of
that class of citizens, for war purposes, was coldly, we may add,
forcibly rejected. Many calls for aid and assistance to
suppress this gigantic rebellion, as full in their demands as the
one on that day, so far as this class of persons is concerned, had
been made, yet there was no demand for our services.
"Deep in the memory of colored citizens of Cincinnati
is written indelibly that eventful day, the 2d of September, 1862.
We were torn from our homes, from the streets, from our shops, and
driven to the mule-pen on Plum Street at the point of the bayonet,
without any definite knowledge of what we were wanted for.
Dismay and terror spread among the women and children, because of
the brutal mannor in which arrests were made. The colored
people are generally loyal. This undue method of enlisting
them into the service of Uncle Sam had the appearance (though false)
that the colored people had to be driven, at the point of the
bayonet, to protect their homes, their wives, and their children.
They went unwillingly, under such circumstances. Contrast this
with the alacrity with which they responded to the gentlemanly
request, even before they knew they would be remunerated for their
"Sir, I have been selected by the members of the Black
Brigade to thank you - deeply thank you - for the very great
interest you have taken in our welfare, for your exertions and final
success in collecting all of the different working parties into one
brigade, for the kindness you have manifested to us in these trying
times. We deeply thank you; our mothers thank you; our
sweethearts thank you; our children will rise up, thank you, and
call you blessed.
"It would be unpardonable injustice not to make
favorable mention of those kind and gentlemanly officers you have
associated with you in conducting the management of the Black
Brigade. Our thanks are due to Messrs. T. C. Day, William
Woods, J. Stacey Hill, Jacob Resor, J. W. Hartwell, J. W. Canfield,
W. Dickson, William H. Chatfield, and last, though not least, Capt.
James Lupton, whose urbane and gentlemanly presence has been as
constant as our shadows, and whose efforts for our comfort have been
as universal as his wide-spread benevolence.
"We, the members of the Black Brigade, perceive all the
necessary qualifications in all of the above-named gentlemen and
constitute them true men of honor, right, and justice; but it is
left for you, our gallant Colonel, to combine all virtues in one.
"Therefore, as a small expression of the high esteem
the members of the Black Brigade entertain for you, they all, each
and every one, present you this sword, the emblem of protection,
knowing that, whenever it is drawn, it will be drawn in favor of
freedom. And should you be called on, under other
circumstances, to demand the services of the Black Brigade, you will
find they will rally around your standard in the defense of our
The Colonel accepted the sword with a few appropriate
words of acknowledgment; when the Brigade, with music playing,
banners flying, with their commander at their head, marched through
the streets of Covington to the pontoon bridge, and across to
Passing through the principal streets in this order,
the Black Brigade, so ignominiously recruited, so insulted and
outraged at its going forth, was every-where received with kindly
enthusiasm. Halting at the corner of Fifth and Broadway, they
were dismissed by Colonel Dickson, with the following address:
SOLDIERS OF THE BLACK BRIGADE! You
have finished the work assigned to you upon the fortifications for
the defense of the city. You are now to be discharged.
You have labored faithfully/ you have made miles of military roads,
miles of rifle-its, felled hundreds of acres of the largest and
loftiest forest trees, built magazines and forts. The hills
across yonder river will be a perpetual monument of your labors.
You have, in no spirit of bravado, in no defiance of established
prejudice, but in the submission to it, intimated to me your
willingness to defend with your lives the fortifications your hands
have built. Organized companies of men of your race have
tendered their services to aid in the defense of the city.
In obedience to the policy of the Government, the authorities have
denied you this privilege. In the department of labor
permitted, you have, however, rendered a willing and cheerful
service. Nor has your zeal been dampened by the cruel
treatment received. The citizens, of both sexes, have
encouraged you with their smiles and words of approbation; the
soldiers have welcomed you as co-laborers in the same great cause.
But a portion of the police, ruffians in character, early learning
that your services were accepted, and seeking to deprive you of the
honor of voluntary labor, before opportunity was given you to
proceed to the field, rudely seized you in the streets, in your
places of business, in your homes, every-where, hurried you into
filthy pens, thence across the river to the fortifications, not
permitting you to make any preparation for camp-life. You have
borne this with the accustomed patience of your race, and when,
under more favorable auspices, you have labored cheerfully and
"Go to your homes with the consciousness of having
performed your duty - of deserving, if you do not receive, the
protection of the law, and bearing with you the gratitude and
respect of all honorable men. You have learned to suffer and
to wait; but in your hours of adversity, remember that the same God
who has numbered the hairs of our heads, who watches over even the
fate of a sparrow, is the God of your race as well as mine.
The sweat-blood which the nation is now shedding at every pore is an
awful warning of how fearful a thing it is to oppress the humblest
being. Until our country shall again need your services, I bid
Although the service of the Black Brigade was in 1862,
during which time the Hon. David Tod was Governor of Ohio, the
following report was made by Colonel Dickson to his successor in
office, Hon. John Brough. The report was also read in the Ohio
Legislature, and ordered to be placed on the record.
The muster-roll contains no names of persons who did
not serve in the Brigade during and after the second week, it not
having been made up until that time.
THE BLACK BRIGADE - ITS SERVICES IN
THE SIEGE OF CINCINNATI.
To His Excellency, John Brough, Governor of
I beg leave to present to you, for
preservation in the archives of the State, the accompanying
enrollment of the Black Brigade of Cincinnati, serving the defense
of that city, in 1862.
This brigade was not formed under the authority of the
State; but its labors were in the defense of her soil, and it seems
but proper that some memory of it should be preserved in her
records. The enrollment is not complete. It has seven
hundred and six names. The brigade numbered about one
thousand. Some three hundred of these, in the beginning of the
service, and before an enrollment had been made, were assigned to
various duties in camps, on gun-boats, and in the city, separate
from the rest of the brigade, and their names were never obtained.
But the enrollment is complete as to the body of the brigade, who
for three weeks, as a separate and distinct force, labored upon the
fortifications in the rear of Covington and Newport, opposite
Cincinnati. The rank and file, and all the company officers
except three, were colored men.
There was no complete military formation: the
nominal brigade, regimental, and company organization had reference
to the convenience of the service to which they were assigned.
The requirements of the occasion, and the prejudices of the time,
limited this to duty as a fatigue force. The colored men did
not shrink from this duty; they gladly performed it; but they
desired the privilege of defending themselves, and the works their
hands had made, with arms. Organized companies of them, armed
and equipped at their own expense, tendered their services to aid in
the defense of the city. But this privilege was denied them,
and they cheerfully performed the duty assigned.
The defeat of the national forces at Richmond,
Kentucky, August 30, 1862, opened the way for rebel invasion of that
State to the Ohio River. There was no organized force to
resist this - none to protect Cincinnati.
Major-General Lewis Wallace, at that time in command of
the city, promptly commenced the organization of a citizen force for
the protection of the city. In the morning papers of September
2, there appeared an order from him declaring martial law,
suspending business, and directing the "citizens" to assemble
at designated places in each ward, for military organization.
It was well understood that this order was not intended to, and did
not, include colored citizens. Numbers of these, however,
offered themselves for any service in which they might be useful.
The offer was accepted; but before any arrangement had been made for
their employment; before any order had been given them, or request
made of them, on the morning of the 3d of September, 1862; the
police, acting in concert, and in obedience to some common order, in
a rude and violent manner, arrested the colored men wherever found -
in the streets, at their places of business, in their homes - and
hurried them to a mule-pen on Plum Street, and thence across the
river to the fortifications, giving them no explanation of this
conduct, and no opportunity to prepare for camp-life. This
unwonted and cruel procedure filled their minds, and the minds of
their families, with alarm and terror, and called forth for them the
sympathy of the citizens who witnessed it. Some of these
informed General Wallace of this conduct, and remonstrated against
it. He condemned it, and, for the purpose of protecting the
colored men, and organizing them for their work requested me to take
command of them, publishing the following order:
"HEAD-QUARTERS UNITED STATES
"William M. Dickson is hereby assigned to
the command of the negro forces from Cincinnati, working on the
fortifications near Newport and Covington, and will be obeyed
"By order of Major-General LEW WALLACE
" J. C. ELSTON, JR., A. D. C."
Upon assuming command, September 4, I
organized my staff as follows:
Timothy C. Day, A. A. G.
J. Stacey Hill, Quartermaster.
William Woods, Commissary
James Lupton, Volunteer Aid and Camp Commandant
Volunteer Aids - Jacob Resor, jr., James W. Canfield,
John W. Hartwell, William J. Dickson, William H. Chatfield,
Alexander Neave, David A. James.
I then proceeded to the fortifications, where the
colored forces were. I found them at work on the rifle-pits
and trenches about Fort Mitchel, on the Lexington Road, in the rear
of Covington. They had been faithfully laboring during the
previous night, and had already been commended by the engineer in
charge, for efficient work. They were, however, weary from
long labor, and anxious about their families. They were also
alarmed because of the treatment they had received from the
regiments of soldiers near them. These seemed to look upon the
colored men as abandoned property, to be seized and appropriated by
the first finder. They detailed squads of soldiers, who
appeared among the negroes at work, selected from them the number
they wanted, and, at the point of the bayonet, marched them off to
the camps of the regiments, there to be employed as cooks, or in
some menial capacity, for the officers. A corporal's guard was
engaged in this business when I reached Fort Mitchel. The
colored men objected to this. They justly apprehended that
they might be carried off with the regiments, or abandoned in
Kentucky, where their presence as freemen was one of the most
grievous crimes known to that State's laws, punishable with the
enslavement of them and their posterity forever. They
expressed entire willingness to labor on the fortifications under
proper protection, but they desired to first return to their
families and make preparations for camp-life.
My first care was to visit the camps of all the
regiments in the vicinity, and to bring from them the kidnapped
colored men. Having done this and assembled them together, I
marched them back to the city to the intersection of Sixth Street
and Broadway, where I established head-quarters, reaching there
about dusk. I then explained to them that I designed forming
them into a "Black Brigade," for fatigue duty; that they should be
kept together as a distinct body, and have assigned to them a given
part of the fortifications for their work; that they should receive
protection and the same treatment as white men; that the necessities
of the hour required of them constant and severe labor; that I
expected this would be cheerfully rendered, and that their sense of
duty and honor would cause them to obey all orders given, and thus
prevent the necessity of any compulsion; that, at all events, I
would try them, and would, therefore, dismiss them to their homes,
expecting every one of them to meet me next morning promptly at five
o'clock, to proceed to the fortifications, there to remain until
their labors were ended.
They received this promise of protection and fair
treatment with grateful emotion, and assured me that they would
endeavor to do their duty. They felt some apprehension that
the police would arrest them; but, as I had advised the city
authorities of my action in the premises, and had received
assurances that there would be no more arrests, I told them that
they could go home without fear in this respect, and dismissed them.
In this I was, however, mistaken. Scarcely had these men,
wearied with thirty-six hours of constant labor - upon half rations,
and without sleep - broken ranks, when they were set upon by the
police, and numbers of them, with blows and imprecations, dragged to
the nearest cells. I reported the matter to General Wallace,
and bore from him to Mayor Hatch a peremptory order prohibiting the
arrest of any colored man, except for crime. This opened the
prison-doors, and by a late hour of the evening, with the assistance
of my staff and some citizens, all the men arrested had been
released and returned to their homes. This order secured
exemption from further arrests for some days, until Major-General
Wright assumed immediate command of the city, when, for some unknown
reason - perhaps because it was thought that the removal of General
Wallace from the command had annulled his orders - the police, a
third time, began arresting the colored men, those to whom, for
sickness or other cause, I had given passes to return to the city.
I again bore a peremptory order this time from General Wright, to
Mayor Hatch, commanding him not to arrest colored men, except for
crime. This again opened the prison-doors; and since that time
no colored man has been arrested in the city of Cincinnati, merely
because he was a colored man. Whether these arrests were made
by the police of their own volition, or in obedience to orders from
superiors, I know not. Each time that I delivered a peremptory
order from the commanding General to Mayor Hatch, he promised
obedience to it.
The number of men dismissed on the evening of the 4th
was bout four hundred. On the morning of the 5th, at the given
hour 5 o'clock, about seven hundred reported for duty. A
number of them were detailed for special duties, and about five
hundred marched with me across the river to Newport, and thence to
the cemetery on the Alexandria road in the rear of Newport. A
handsome National flag, presented to them by Capt. Jas. Lupton, was
borne in their midst, and their march was enlivened by strains of
martial music, from a band formed from the ranks, of their own
motion. They were cheered on their way to their work by the
good words of the citizens who lined the streets, and by the waving
handkerchiefs of patriotic ladies. As they passed the
different regiments in line of battle, proceeding to the
fortifications, mutual cheers and greetings attested the good
feeling between these co-workers in the same cause.
The section of work assigned to their special care, lay
between the Alexandria road and Licking river, along the Cemetery
ridge and Three-mile creek. It embraced the making of military
roads, the digging of rifle-pits and trenches, the felling of
forests, and the building of forts and magazines. The men
commenced their work in the rifle-pits, on their arrival at Cemetery
Every thing had to be improvised; the Quartermaster and
Commissary departments required immediate attention, and gave most
trouble; but in a few days all was in working order. The men
discovered a special aptitude for camp life, and with grass, brush
and trees, made "Camp Lupton" an agreeable summer residence.
New accessions were received to the ranks every day; colored men
singly, in squads and companies, from every part of Southern Ohio,
joining them, until they exceeded 700, independently of the details
made for special duties. Upon the section assigned them they
continued to labor until the 20th. During this time they
worked faithfully, always doing more than was required of them,
and receiving again and again the commendation of the Engineers in
charge, to the effect that they were the most efficient working men
in the services. There was no occasion for compulsion,
and for discipline, but a single instance. They labored
cheerfully and joyfully. They made miles of military roads,
miles of rifle pits; felled hundreds of acres of the largest
and loftiest forest trees; built forts and magazines.
Some displayed a high order of intelligence, and a ready insight
into the work they were doing, often making valuable suggestions.
Upon one occasion, one of them suggested a change in the engineering
of a military road ascending a steep hill. The value of the
change was obvious when named, and admitted by the Engineer, yet he
ordered the road to be made as originally planned, and deprecated
They committed no trespass on private property.
In one instance, upon changing the camp, a German asked me if they
could not remain longer, as they protected his grapes. They
were not intimidated by any danger, though compelled to labor
without arms for their protection.
During the few days that the soldiers stood in line of
battle, expecting an attack, the Black Brigade was working nearly a
mile in front of the line of battle, and with nothing between it and
the enemy but the cavalry scouts. Upon the occasion that it
moved upon St. John's Hill, over-looking Licking valley, so far was
it in front of the lines that Colonel Jonah R. Taylor, of the 50th
Ohio Volunteer Infanatry, then in command as Acting Brigadier
General of the forces nearest it, supposing it was the enemy,
sounded the alarm, ordered out a battery to bear upon it, and, in
his trepidation, actually ordered it to be fired upon; but this was
prevented by the good sense of the officer in command of the
battery, who refused obedience, and when pressed fired blank
cartridges, and then induced the sending of a flag of truce.
This was received with becoming formality, and the fears of the
redoubtable commander were allayed. The men were fully advised
as to their position, but said they would go wherever they were
During the first week they labored, as did the whole
fatigue force, without compensation. During the second week
they received a dollar a day per man; and during the third week a
dollar and a half - as did also all the fatigue-force, black and
Upon the 20th their labors were ended; the siege of
Cincinnati had been raised: the banners of rebellion had receded,
never to return, and the men with happy hearts, with the good will
of soldier and citizen, returned to the city and were dismissed to
their homes. And thus closed, in joy and happiness, a service
that had been commenced with violence, in anxiety and gloom.
I was much indebted to the intelligent and efficient
aid I received from the gentlemen composing my staff - volunteers to
an arduous, and then thankless duty. It will not be considered
by any of them an unfair discrimination, when I particularize in a
single instance. To the constant attention by day and by
night, and to the discreet supervision of Mr. James Lupton as camp
commandant, the brigade was greatly indebted for its well-being and
Many of the members of the brigade have since entered
the military service. Many are there still. Some have
fallen, and now sleep well amid the sands of Morris Island, and of
the banks of the Mississippi. Others have been taken
prisoners, and their fate is enshrouded in impenetrable mystery.
All have done their duty.
It is to be regretted that they were not permitted to
enter the service under the auspices of their own State, whose soil
they had defended; but this privilege, which the authorities of
their State denied them, was granted them by the sagacious,
patriotic and noble governor of the ancient Commonwealth of
But there has been progress, and since then numbers of
the Black Brigade have entered the service of their own State.
There can now, therefore, be no objection to
preserving, in the archives of the State, as a part of the history
of the times, this enrollment of the first organization of colored
men in the West, for military purposes.
WILLIAM M. DICKSON
Commandant Black Brigade
CINCINNATI, January 12th, 1864