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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 Cincinnati
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 Cincinnati.
     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 battle."

     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 citizens.
     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 following appeared:

     "Let our 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:

"HEAD-QUARTERS U.S. 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 Lewis Wallace.

"J. C. ELSTON, JR, A. D. C."

     To 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:

   "I 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 only.
     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 S. Brooks.
     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:
    "COL. DICKSON:  The 2d day of September will ever be memorable in the history of the colored citizens of Cincinnati.

 

 

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