previous next

[311] 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:


headquarters U. S. Forces, Cincinnati, Sept. 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

Upon assuming the command, September fourth, I organized my staff, as follows:

Timothy C. Day, Assistant Adjutant-General.

J. Stacy Hill, Quartermaster.

William Woods, Commissary.

James Lupton, Volunteer Aid, Acting Camp Commandant.

Jacob Resor, Jr., James W. Cossefield, John W. Hartwell, William J. Dickson, William H. Chatfield, Alexander Neave, David A. James, Volunteer Aids.

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 preceding 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 for ever. They expressed entire willingness to labor on the fortifications under proper protection; but they desired to first return to their families, and make preparation 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 and Broadway streets--where I established “headquarters” --reaching there about dusk. I then advised 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 to be cheerfully rendered, and that their sense of duty and of honor would cause them to obey with alacrity 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 the 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 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 them exemption from arrest 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 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 seventh was about four hundred; on the

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
September 4th, 1862 AD (1)
September 4th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: