Black Walnut Hills resident Peter Clark wrote the earliest history of Cincinnati’s Black Brigade formed during the Civil War in late 1862. This service came a number of months before the large-scale recruitment of the Contrabands, enslaved people who liberated themselves by moving behind Union army lines, beginning in 1863.
Clark’s account forms the core of the recent memorial to the Black Brigade featured in Smale Riverfront Park.
Kentucky remained in the Union during the Civil war, despite its status as a slave state. In August, 1862, Confederate forces controlled parts of the state, and briefly threatened Covington, Newport and Cincinnati. Cincinnati’s city government hastily prepared a defense. The Cincinnati police department rounded up about 400 African American men, intending to enforce them into work crews preparing roads and earthworks for defensive positions behind Newport and Covington. Military authorities released the kidnapped free Blacks and returned them to Cincinnati.
The Black men of Cincinnati were invited to volunteer for the service, and the next morning more than 800 reported for enlistment. They provided all but three of their own officers. The brigade served for a few weeks; after the first week, they received the same pay as white soldiers. The fortifications they built provided a formidable barrier. Without any serious engagement, the Rebel army withdrew further back into Kentucky and the Black Brigade was mustered out.