The BLACK BRIGADE
By Peter H. Clark
being a report of its labors and a muster-roll of its
members: together with various orders, speeches, etc. relating to it
Printed by J. B. Boyd, 1864
(This book is transcribed verbatim by Sharon Wick)
AT the request of many members of the Black Brigade, who desired to
have in a convenient form for preservation, the report, muster-roll,
orders, and addresses which are here presented, I have undertaken
the compilation of this volume.
The Black Brigade was the first organization of the
colored people of the North actually employed for military purposes.
The conference of the loyal Governors at Altoona, where the
organization of colored regiments in the North was first agreed
upon, had not been held; Massachusets had not yet issued the call
which rallied the noble Fifty-fourth and Fifty-fifth Regiments;
colored men of the North were every-where contemptuously refused
permission to participate in the great struggle which is opening the
prison-doors to their brethren in the South. In no community
was this exclusion more generally ratified by public sentiment that
In the South, General Butler, with that
sublimity of common sense which characterizes all his actions, had
employed, as laborers, the freedmen in the vicinity of Fortress
Monroe, under the name of "Contrabands;" and, in an order dated
August 24, 1862, nine days before the organization of the Black
Brigade, he had called upon the free colored people of Louisiana to
rally to the defense of the Union.
The city of Cincinnati always has been, and still is,
pro-slavery. Nowhere has the prejudice against colored people
been more cruelly manifested than here. Further north or
further south the feeling is not so intense; but here it almost
denies him the right of existence. For about thirty years the
city has, at intervals, been disgraced by ferocious outbursts of mob
violence against the colored people and their friends, resulting
frequently in loss of life, and always in the destruction of
property. It is true that anti-slavery speakers have at times
been allowed free utterance; but Cincinnati is a commercial as well
as a pro-slavery city. Abolition buyers from the North and
slaveholding buyers from the South jostle each other in her streets;
hence the influential classes maintained free speech to conciliate
Abolition customers, while the rabble were permitted to mob colored
people to placate slaveholders. Even this balance was broken
when the traitor Yancey spoke for disunion in the thronged house,
and with interruption, while Wendell Phillips, speaking for the
Union, was driven from the same platform by mob violence, and halls
were closed, lest a lecture by Henry Ward Beecher
should provoke a riot.
Such was the state of the public mind when the siege of
Cincinnati begun. The raid of John Morgan in
July, and defeat of the Union forces at Richmond, Kentucky, August
30, had given warning of impending danger. Various calls were
made by the authorities for the citizens to prepare for defense.
Regiments had been organized for drill, and a large part of the
people were filled with marital ardor. The colored people paid
no attention to these calls, because they did not feel themselves
addressed in them.
There is an ellipsis universal in American writing or
speaking. When an American writes, "All men are created free
and equal," he means all white men. When he solicits the
patronage of the public for his book, his lecture, his concert, his
store, his railroad-car or steamboat, he means the white public.
The colored people having long sine come to understand this fact,
and to act upon it. It was most bitterly and insultingly
impressed upon their memories when, in the great outburst of
indignant patriotism, all the North rushed to arms to avenge the
fall of Sumter. They, too, desired to maintain the supremacy
of the violated Constitution, for they hoped that some day the
American people would remember that it was ordained "to secure the
blessings of liberty;" they, too, had hopes centered in that flag;
they, too, had hopes centered in that flag; they, too, had homes to
defend against the ravages of war. A meeting of the colored
citizens of Cincinnati was called, to organize a company of "Home
Guards." They did not propose to invade the South, but merely
desired to aid in the defense of the city, should the necessity
arise. The blood boils with indignation at the remembrance of
the insults heaped upon them for this simple offer. The keys
of the school-house, in which a second meeting was proposed, were
roughly demanded by the police. The proprietor of a place
selected as a recruiting station was compelled to take down an
American flag which he had raised over his door. The
proprietors of another place were told by the police: "We want you
d----d niggers to keep out of this; this is a white man's war."
The Commercial reiterated the same advice, shorn of its
profanity, but as needlessly and cruelly insulting. It was
even said that a mob was brewing - that the steamboatmen were
organizing for riotous purposes. Colored men were warned that
serious danger impended. Whether this was true, or merely a
pretext to justify the abuse of the police, is hard to decide.
The chairman of the meeting was induced to publish a disclaimer, and
the matter ended.
In such a community, appeals to all citizens to
organize for defense fell upon the ears of colored men unheeded.
They remembered their lesson: "This is a white man's war and you
d---d niggers must keep out of it."
On Monday evening, September 1, General Lewis
Wallace assumed command of the city, placing it under martial
law, and making in the proclamation the following declaration:
"This labor out to be that
of love. The undersigned trusts and believes it will be so.
Anyhow, it must be done. The willing shall be properly
credited; and unwilling promptly visited. The principal
adopted is: Citizens for the labor; soldiers for the
The negro-hating portion
of the population rejoiced greatly that the Black Brigade was
assigned to fatigue duty; but it will be seen, from this extract,
that they performed the duty assigned by the General to all
The papers of Tuesday morning also contained the
following proclamation from the Mayor of the city:
"MAYOR'S OFFICE, City of Cincinnati.
"In accordance with a
resolution passed by the City Council of Cincinnati on the 1st
instant, I hereby request that all business, of every kind or
character, be suspended at ten o'clock of this day, and that all
persons, employers and employees, assemble in their respective
wards, at the usual places of voting, and then and there organize
themselves in such manner as may be thought best for the defense of
the city. Every man, of every age, be he citizen or
alien, who lives under the protection of our laws, is expected to
take part in the organization.
"Witness my hand and the corporate seal of the city of
Cincinnati, this 2d day of September, A.D. 1862.
"GEORGE HATCH, Mayor"
At two o'clock on the
morning of the same day, the Mayor issued another proclamation,
notifying the citizens that the police force would perform the duty
of a provost guard, under the direction of General Wallace.
The Mayor's proclamation, under ordinary circumstances,
would be explicit enough. "Every man, of every age, be he
citizen or alien," surely meant the colored people. A number
thought themselves included in the call; but remembering the
ill-will excited by former offers for some defense, they feared to
come forward for enrollment. The proclamation ordered the
people to assemble "in the respective wards, at the usual places of
voting." The colored people had no places of voting.
Added to this, George Hatch was the same Mayor who had broken up the
movement for home defense, before mentioned. Seeking to test
the matter, a policeman was approached, as he strutted in his new
dignity of provost-guard. To the question - humbly almost
tremblingly, put - "Does the Mayor desire colored men to report for
service in the city's defense?" he replied: "You know
d---d well he doesn't mean you. Niggers ain't citizens."
"But he calls on all - citizens and aliens. If he does not
mean all, he should not say so." "the Mayor knows as well as
you do what to write, and all he wants is for you niggers to keep
quiet." This was at nine o'clock on the morning of the 2d.
The military authorities had determined, however, to impress the
colored men for work upon the fortifications. The privilege of
volunteering, extended to others, was to be denied to them.
Permission to volunteer would imply some freedom, some dignity, some
independent manhood. For this the commanding officer is alone
Chargeable. Mayor Hatch did not mean the colored
people, though he had written "every person:" nor had he given his
officers any orders at their first going out. It may be said
that the commanding General had no time, in the press of business,
to care for such small matters as the desires and feelings of
colored men. This may be so; but it is the lack of time to
attend to such small matters as mercy and justice, that has involved
the nation in this wasteful and bloody contest.
If the guard appointed to the duty of collecting the
colored people had gone to their houses and notified them to report
for duty on the fortifications, the order would have been cheerfully
obeyed. But the brutal ruffians who composed the regular and
special police took every opportunity to inflict abuse and insult
upon the men whom they arrested. The special police was
entirely composed of that class of the population which, only a
month before, had combined to massacre the colored population, and
were only prevented from committing great excesses by the fact that
John Morgan, with his rough riders, had galloped to within forty
miles of the river, when the respectable citizens, fearing that the
disloyal element within might combine with the raiders without, and
give the city over to pillage, called a meeting on 'Change, and
demanded that the riot be stopped. The special police was, in
fact, composed of a class too cowardly or too traitorous to aid,
honestly and manfully, in the defense of the city. They went
from house to house, followed by a gang of rude, foul-mouthed boys.
Closets, cellars, and garrets were searched; bayonets were thrust
into beds and bedding; old and young, sick and well, were dragged
out, and, amidst shouts and jeers, marched like felons to the pen on
Plum Street, opposite the Cathedral. No time was given to
prepare for camp-life; in most cases no information was given of the
purpose for which the men were impressed. The only answers to
questions were curses and a brutal "Come along now; you will find
out time enough." Had the city been captured by the
Confederates the colored people would have suffered no more than
they did at the hands of these defenders. Tuesday night,
September 2, was a sad night to the colored people of Cincinnati.
The greater part of the male population had been dragged from home,
across the river, but where, and for what? non could tell.
The captain of these conscripting squads was one
William Homer, and in him organized ruffianism had its
fitting head. He exhibited the brutal malignity of his nature
in the continued series of petty tyrannies. Among the first
squads marched into the yard was one which had to wait several hours
before being ordered across the river. Seeking to make
themselves as comfortable as possible, they had collected blocks of
wood, and piled up bricks, upon which they seated themselves on the
shaded side of the yard. Coming into the yard, he ordered them
all to rise, marched them to another part, then issued the order,
"D---n you, squat." Turning to the guard, he added, "Shoot the
first one who rises." Reaching the other side of the river,
the same squad were marched from the sidewalk into the middle of a
dusty road, and again the order, "D---n you, squat," and the
command to shoot the first one who should rise.
The drill of his men was unique, and not set down in
Scot or Hardee. Calling up a squad, he would address them
thus: 'Now, you fellows, hold up your heads. Pat, hold
your musket straight; I believe you are drunk. Now, then, I
want you fellows to go out of this pen and bring all the niggers you
can catch. Don't you come back here with niggers." Then
looking up at the Cathedral clock, he adds: "I'll give you
forty minutes to be gone. Be sure and come back in that
time, and bring niggers; don't come back without niggers."
No paper of the city protested against the outages,
except the Gazette In its impression of Thursday, the 4th, the
colored fellow-soldiers be treated civilly, and not exposed to any
unnecessary tyranny, nor to the insults a race which they profess to
regard as inferior. It would have been decent to have invited
the colored inhabitants to turn out in defense of the city.
Then there would have been an opportunity to compare their
patriotism with that of those who were recently trying to drive them
from the city. Since the services of men are required from our
colored brethren, let them be treated like men."
This saturnalia of
ruffianism continued until Thursday, September 4, 1862, when
Judge W. M. Dickson was assigned the task of
collecting into one body all the working bands of colored men,
overseeing their rations, &c.
The order giving Judge Dickson command of
the Black Brigade was as follows:
"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 Lewis Wallace.
"J. C. ELSTON, JR, A. D.
Judge Dickson and his aids, especially James Lupton,
Acting Camp Commandant, the members of the brigade can never be
sufficiently grateful. Under their command kind treatment took
the place of brutality. The men were permitted to return to
their homes, to allay the fears of their families, and to prepare
themselves the better for camp-life. The police were relieved
of provost-guard duty, and on Friday morning more men reported for
duty than had been dragged together by the police. Many had
hidden too securely to be found; others had escaped to the country.
These now came forward to aid in the city's defense. With
augmented numbers and glowing with enthusiasm, the Black Brigade
marched to their duty. Receiving the treatment of men, they
were ready for anything. Being in line of march, they were
presented with the National flag by Capt. Lupton, who accompanied it
with the following address:
have the kind permission of your commandant, Colonel Dickson, to
hand you, without formal speech or presentation, this national flag
- my sole object to encourage and cheer you on to duty. On its
broad folds is inscribed, 'THE BLACK BRIGADE OF CINCINNATI.' I
am confident that, in your hands, it will not be dishonored.
"The duty of the hour is work - hard, severe labor on
the fortifications of the city. In the emergency upon us, the
highest and the lowest alike owe this duty. Let it be
cheerfully undertaken. He is no man who now in defense of home
and fireside, shirks duty.
"A flag is the emblem of sovereignty - a symbol and guarantee
of protection. Every nation and people are proud of the
flag of their country. England, for a thousand years, boasts
her Red flag and Cross of St. George; France glories in her
Tri-color and Imperial Eagle; ours the 'Star-spangled Banner,' far
more beautiful than they - this dear old flag! - the sun in
heaven never looked down on so proud a banner of beauty and glory.
Men of the Black Brigade, rally around it! Assert your
manhood, be loyal to duty, be obedient, hopeful, patient.
Slavery will soon die; the slaveholders' rebellion, accursed of God
and man, will shortly and miserably perish. There will then
be, through all the coming ages, in a very truth, a land of the free
- one country, one flag, one destiny.
"I charge you, Men of the Black Brigade of Cincinnati,
remember that for you, and for me, and for your children,
and your children's children, there is but one Flag, as there
is but one Bible, and one GOD, the Father of us all."
For nearly three weeks the Black Brigade labored upon the
fortifications, their services beginning, as we have seen, September
2, and terminating September 20. At first, by compulsion, and
under the control of vile men who sought to degrade its members
below their own bestial level, at a later period under kind and
competent leaders, they always labored cheerfully and acceptably.
The shame meant to be inflicted upon them rebounded upon their
enemies, and the members of the Black Brigade returned to their
homes with the proud consciousness that, while the fortifications
erected by their own hands had deterred the enemy from attacking in
front, their uniform good conduct had completely routed the horde of
rebel sympathizers in the rear, who had vented upon the Brigade the
spite they felt toward the Union and Liberty.
But one serious accident occurred during the period of
their service. On the 17th, Joseph Johns was killed by the
falling of a tree. The blow fell heavily upon his wife, who
with an infant was left to mourn the loss of a loving husband and
father. That they were not molested by the enemy was due to
their good fortune, and not to any prudence on the part of the
military authorities. General Wallace, having first ordered
their impressment for a work in which they would have proudly
volunteered, next placed them far in advance of the Union lines,
with nothing but spades in their hands, this, too, at a time when an
attack was momentarily expected. So far in advance were they,
that they were once mistaken for the enemy; and if the officers
serving under Col. J. R. Taylor, of the 50th Ohio, had not possessed
more courage and prudence than their commander, serious consequences
would have ensued. If Col. Taylor did not obtain one of Gov.
Tod's squirrel-hunting medals, he should apply for one, and wear it,
as a perpetual reminder that his prowess is terrible to squirrels
Members of the Black Brigade have since proved
themselves men on bloodier fields. When Massachusetts called
on the free colored men of the North to fill her regiments, they
responded with joy. Others are enrolled in regiments stationed
in the Mississippi Valley. I have before me a letter written
by one of them - a rough, straight-forward soldier's letter.
It was written with a pencil, with a fallen tree for a desk; for he
and another member of the Brigade are doing picket duty in the
everglades of Florida. He recounts the the deeds of his
regiment, the 54th Massachusetts, in the bloody fight of Olustee;
speaks modestly, as a true soldier does, of his own deeds, but we
know that he stood by his flag, for in the report of the losses of
Company I, 54th Massachusetts, we read: "Thomas Bowman shot
through the leg." Many have met the glorious death of the
soldier on the battle-field; some languish in the prisons of
Richmond or Charleston; some sleep in that pit where Robert Gould
Shaw lies "buried with his niggers." There let them rest;
their burial place will be a resort of pilgrims of the redeemed
race, in this glad days, when free black children shall sing songs
of Liberty and Union, over the tombs of John C. Calhoun and Preston
One does not wonder at the heroism of Lytle, Jones,
Whitcomb, L'Hommedieu, and others of our city's sons, who have gone
forth and sacrificed their lives for their country. Them she
loved, strewed their youthful pathway with flowers, encouraged their
opening manhood, and stood ready to crown their riper years with the
honors she accords to those who have served her well. But
these poor outcasts, what has she done for them? Slavery,
social and political proscription, these were her gifts to them;
yet they hope for more: they wish to be numbered among the
children of the nation, to be invested with the privileges wherewith
she endows her sons, to feel the heart throb when gazing upon the
country's flag; to say with proud joy: we too are American citizens!
Is this too much to hope for?
On the afternoon of Saturday, September 20, the Brigade
was ordered into line, to return to their homes; their work was
done. Judge Dickson had won the esteem of the men by his
numerous acts of kindness, by the prompt vindication of their
rights, by his incessant and efficient supervision of their labors.
They had determined to present a sword to him as a token of their
regard. When all was ready, Mr. Marshall P. H. Jones stepped
forward and addressed the commander as follows:
The 2d day of September will ever be memorable in the history of the
colored citizens of Cincinnati.