OHIO GENEALOGY EXPRESS

 

The BLACK BRIGADE

- CONTINUED -

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 services.
     "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 country."
     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 Cincinnati.
     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 effectively.
     "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 you farewell."
     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 Ohio:
     
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:

                     "CIRCULAR .                                              
"HEAD-QUARTERS UNITED STATES FORCES,)
"CINCINNATI, September  4, 1862.)

     "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 accordingly.
     "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 ridge.
     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 further suggestion.
     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 ordered.
     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 white.
     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 comfort.
     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 Massachusetts.
     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.
                    Respectfully, yours,
                                                           WILLIAM M. DICKSON
                                                              Commandant Black Brigade

CINCINNATI, January 12th, 1864

.MUSTER ROLL OF
BLACK BRIGADE

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