NEWS | Feb. 23, 2022

Kentucky’s United States Colored Troops

By John Trowbridge Contributor

NOTE: This is a guest article from SFC(R) John Trowbridge. He's a Kentucky Guardsman and former Command Historian that has compiled information on this topic from a variety of sources which aren't cited here. For more information on where this information has originated, please contact Mr. Trowbridge at the following: john.m.trowbridge.nfg@mail.mil

Officially 23,703 Kentucky African Americans responded to the call to arms by President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass to join the ranks of the newly organized United States Colored Troops. Units were organized with men from across the Commonwealth, mustering into the Army at sites from Maysville to Paducah, with Camp Nelson, located in Jessamine County being the second largest recruiting and training facility for African Americans in the country. 

In June 1863 the 4th US Colored Field Artillery (Heavy) located in Columbus, was the first to organize with African Americans from Tennessee and Kentucky, the last to organize was the 125th US Colored Infantry, February 12 - June 2, 1865 at Louisville. Kentucky provided two Cavalry, four Field Artillery (Heavy) and seventeen Infantry regiments for a total of twenty-three regiments to fight for the Union and Freedom. 
Kentucky African American Soldiers were initially assigned to guard and garrison duty around the Commonwealth at Camp Nelson, Louisville, Crab Orchard, Danville, Camp Wildcat, Smithland and Louisa, as Confederate Guerrilla activity increased in the state they became involved in skirmishes at Lexington, Harrodsburg, Haddix's Ferry, Owensboro and Ghent. 

Not all of Kentucky's USCT units were confined to the boundaries of the Commonwealth, units saw action at Union City, TN; Fort Donelson, TN; along the Nashville & Northwestern Railroad, Johnsonville, TN; Nashville, TN; Saltville, VA; Marion, VA; Petersburg, VA; Richmond, VA; Fort Harrison, VA; Hatcher's Run, VA; Portsmouth, VA; Bermuda Hundred, VA; Fort Fisher, NC; Sugar Loaf Hill, NC; Federal Point, NC; Fort Anderson, NC; Wilmington, NC; Kinston, NC; Goldsboro, NC; Cox's Bridge, NC; Raleigh, NC; Bennett's House, NC; Duvalls' Bluff, AR. 

Thomas Speed, a Union Officer and Kentuckian, describes in a letter to his wife, written February 25, 1865, the fighting ability of the Kentucky African Americans during the assault on Fort Fisher, North Carolina:
There is a division of Negro troops here--a great many of them from Kentucky. You must not turn up your nose when I say they fight splendidly. I saw them tried yesterday. And our regiment saw it and they all acknowledge that 'we have to give it up '... [these men] will fight.

On April 9, 1865 the 109th, 114th, 116th and 117th U.S. Colored Infantry were present at Appomattox Courthouse during the surrender of General Robert E. Lee. 

Following the war, some of Kentucky's USCT units did not immediately return home. Units were sent to Texas as part of an American build-up intended to discourage French operations in Mexico. The 109th, 114th, 116th, 117th, 118th and 122nd operated along the Rio Grande River until September 1866. 

With the end of the War, martial law was still in effect within the Commonwealth, units saw duty across Kentucky until December 20, 1867 when 125th U.S. Colored Infantry was mustered out, thus becoming the last United States Colored Troop unit to be mustered out of the Army.

Green Hill Cemetery
Monument to Kentucky's African American Civil War Soldiers

Thursday Morning, July 3, 1925, Frankfort State Journal, ran the following story:
Colored Soldiers' Monument to be Unveiled
The monument, which has been erected to the memory of the Colored Soldiers of the Civil War from Frankfort and Franklin County, will be unveiled at the Green Hill Cemetery tomorrow afternoon at four o'clock. Short and appropriate exercises are to be held. This monument has been erected at a cost of several hundred dollars under the direction of the Colored Women's Relief Corps, and each soldier's name has been cut on the stone. Contributions are being made to the fund by patriotic and public spirited citizens of both races.
 
One hundred and forty-two names of Kentucky African American Civil War soldiers are 
engraved on the monument. These soldiers were from the Central Kentucky area.
Kentucky Historical Marker #2226 at Green Hill Cemetery commemorates the only monument in the Commonwealth that honors African American Kentuckians who served in the United States Colored Troops during the American Civil War.

Although Kentucky remained loyal to the Union during the Civil War, there are only a handful of Union monuments in Kentucky. This ten-foot limestone pillar was dedicated on July 4, 1924, by the Women’s Relief Corps No. 8 of the Grand Army of the Republic. One side of the monument is engraved with, “In Memory of the Colored Soldiers Franklin County, Kentucky Who Fought in the Civil War 1861-1865.” The other three sides of the monument list 142 African American soldiers’ names.

One third of the total Union Solders from the State were African American. With the exception of Louisiana, Kentucky provided more black soldiers than any other state.  More men probably would have served if they had been allowed to enlist before the spring of 1864. However, President Lincoln’s delicate handling of the slaveholding Border States delayed recruiting efforts in the Commonwealth. Almost half of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) who enlisted from Kentucky were recruited, trained, and placed in infantry, artillery, and cavalry units at Camp Nelson in Jessamine County. Many of those who trained at Camp Nelson saw combat at Saltville, Virginia, the 1864 Nashville Campaign, the Petersburg/Richmond Campaign, and the Wilmington, North Carolina Campaign.

As the only monument that honors Kentucky's African American Union soldiers, Greenhill Cemetery plays an important role in commemorating Kentucky's Civil War past.
 
“Spirit of Freedom” USCT Monument, 10th & U Street, Washington D. C.
In July 1998, Louisville sculptor Ed Hamilton unveiled his sculpture, “Spirit of Freedom,” in Washington, D. C.  This work of art memorizes the service and sacrifice of all African American that served in the Army and Navy during the Civil War. 
 
United States Colored Troops Organized in Kentucky
On May 22, 1863, the U. S. War Department established the Bureau of Colored Troops for recruitment of African-Americans for the Union Army. Prior to the establishment of the bureau there had been several African-American regiments raised at various location across the Union.  The bureau was created to coordinate the organization of these regiments, which would become known as the United States Colored Troops (USCT).  Regiments consisted of Infantry, Cavalry, Light and Heavy Artillery units.  These units were commanded by White officers and there was little chance of advancement for a Black soldier.  An estimated 178,000 Blacks, ten per cent of the Union Army, served in 175 Union regiments during the last two years of the war. 
Camp Nelson, located in Jessamine County, Kentucky, was the third largest African-American recruiting and training facility in the country.
 
Cavalry
5th U. S. Colored Cavalry (USCC) organized at Camp Nelson - October 24, 1864.
Attached to 1st Division, District of Kentucky, Dept. of Ohio, to February, 1865. Military District of Kentucky and Dept. of Arkansas, to March, 1866.
SERVICE.--Participated in Burbridge's Raid from Kentucky into Southwestern Virginia September 20-October 17, 1864. Action at Saltsville, Va., October 2. At Lexington, Ky., October 19. Harrodsburg, Ky., October 21. Stoneman's Raid into Southwestern Virginia December 10-29. Near Marion December 17-18. Capture of Saltsville and destruction of salt works December 20-21. Duty at Ghent, Paducah, LaGrange, Crab Orchard and Camp Nelson until August, 1865, and in the Dept. of Arkansas until March, 1866. Mustered out March 20, 1866.
Regiment lost during service 35 Enlisted men killed and mortally wounded and 1 Officer and 151 Enlisted men by disease. Total 187.
 
6th U. S. Colored Cavalry (USCC) organized at Camp Nelson - October 24, 1864.
Attached to 1st Division, District of Kentucky, Dept. of Ohio, to February, 1865. Military District and Dept. of Kentucky to December, 1865, and Dept. of Arkansas to April, 1866.
SERVICE.--Stoneman's Raid into Southwestern Virginia December 10-29, 1864. Capture and destruction of lead mines December 17. Near Marion December 17-18. Saltsville December 20-21. At Camp Nelson and Paducah, Ky., until March, 1865. At LaGrange, Tenn., until May. At Camp Nelson, Wild Cat, and Danville, Ky., until July. At New Haven and Catlettsburg, Ky., until October. At Covington, Ky., until December. At Louisville, Ky., and Helena, Ark., until January, 1866. At Duvall's Bluff, Ark., until April 15, 1866. Mustered out April 15, 1866.
 
Heavy Artillery
4th U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery (USCA).  Initially, 2nd Regiment Heavy Artillery (African Descent).  Organized at Columbus, Ky., June, 1863. Attached to District of Columbus, Ky., 6th Division, 16th Army Corps, Dept. of the Tennessee, to April, 1864.  Post and garrison duty at Union City, Tenn., and Columbus, Ky., till April, 1864.  Designation of Regiment changed to 4th United States Colored Heavy Artillery April 26, 1864.  This organization was made up of volunteers from Kentucky and Tennessee.  
Organized from 2nd Tennessee Heavy Artillery (African Descent). Designated 3rd Heavy Artillery March 11, 1864, and 4th Heavy Artillery April 26, 1864. Attached to District of Columbus, 16th Corps, Dept. of Tennessee, to August, 1864. District of Columbus, Dept. of Ohio, to June, 1865. Dept. of Arkansas to February, 1866.
SERVICE.-Garrison duty at Fort Halleck, Columbus, Ky., till June, 1865. Union City, Tenn., September 2, 1864. Near Fort Donelson, Tenn., October 11. Moved to Arkansas June, 1865, and duty at Pine Bluff, Ark., till February, 1866. Mustered out February 25, 1866.
 
8th U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery (USCA) organized at Paducah - April 26, 1864.
Attached to Paducah, Ky., District of Columbus, Ky., 16th Corps, Dept. of the Tennessee, to August, 1864. Paducah, Ky., District of Columbus, Ky., Dept. of the Ohio, to February, 1865, and Dept. of Kentucky to February, 1866.
SERVICE.--Garrison duty at Paducah, Ky., until February, 1866. Operations against Forest in Kentucky March 16 to April 14, 1864. Action at Fort Anderson, Paducah, Ky., March 25, 1864. Expedition from Paducah, Ky., to Haddix Ferry July 26-27, 1864. Skirmish near Haddix Ferry August 27, 1864. Mustered out February 10, 1866.
 
12th U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery (USCA) organized at Camp Nelson - July 15, 1864.
Attached to 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, District of Kentucky, Dept. of the Ohio, to January, 1865. Military District of Kentucky and Dept. of Kentucky, to April, 1866.
SERVICE.--Garrison duty in District of Kentucky, at Bowling Green, Camp Nelson and other points until April, 1866. Mustered out April 24, 1866.
 
13th U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery (USCA) organized at Camp Nelson - June 23, 1864.
Attached to Military District of Kentucky, Dept. of the Ohio, to February, 1865, and to Dept. of Kentucky, to November, 1865.
SERVICE.--Garrison duty at Camp Nelson, Smithland, Lexington and other points in Kentucky until November-1865. Mustered out November 18, 1865.
 
Infantry
72nd U. S. Colored Infantry (USCI) organized at Covington - April 18, 1865.
            Failed to organize, discontinued May 3, 1865.
 
100th U. S. Colored Infantry (USCI) organized from Kentucky at large - May 3 - June 1, 1864.
Attached to Defenses of Nashville & Northwestern Railroad, Dept. of the Cumberland, to December, 1864. 2nd Colored Brigade, District of the Etowah, Dept. of the Cumberland, to January, 1865. Defenses of Nashville & Northwestern Railroad, Dept. of the Cumberland, to December, 1865.
SERVICE.--Guard duty on Nashville & Northwestern Railroad in Tennessee until December, 1864. Skirmish on Nashville & Northwestern Railroad September 4. Action at Johnsonville November 4-5. Battle of Nashville, Tenn., December 15-16. Overton Hill December 16. Pursuit of Hood to the Tennessee River December 17-28. Again assigned to guard duty on Nashville & Northwestern Railroad January 16, 1865, and so continued until December, 1865. Mustered out December 26, 1865.
 
107th U. S. Colored Infantry (USCI) organized at Louisville - May 3 - September 15, 1864.
Attached to Military District of Kentucky, Dept. of the Ohio, to October, 1864. Provisional Brigade, 3rd Division, 18th Corps, Army of the James, to December, 1864. 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 25th Corps, to December, 1864. 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division, 25th Corps, to January, 1865. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 25th Corps, to March, 1865. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 10th Corps, Dept. of North Carolina, to August, 1865. Dept. of North Carolina and Dept. of the South to November, 1866.
SERVICE.--Duty in Kentucky until October, 1864. Ordered to Baltimore, Md., thence to City Point, Va., October 26. Siege of Petersburg November 3 to December 7. 1st Expedition to Fort Fisher, N. C., December 7-27. 2nd Expedition to Fort Fisher, N. C., January 7-15, 1865. Bombardment of Fort Fisher January 13-15. Assault and capture of Fort Fisher January 15. Sugar Loaf Hill January 19. Federal Point February 11. Fort Anderson February 18-20. Capture of Wilmington February 22. Northeast Ferry February 22. Campaign of the Carolinas March 1-April 26. March on Kinston and Goldsboro March 6-21. Action at Cox's Bridge March 23-24. Advance on Raleigh April 9-14. Occupation of Raleigh April 14. Bennett's House April 26. Surrender of Johnston and his army. Duty at various points in North Carolina and in the Dept. of the South until November, 1866. Mustered out November 22, 1866.
 
108th U. S. Colored Infantry (USCI) organized at Louisville - June 20, 1864.
Attached to 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, District of Kentucky, 5th Division, 23rd Corps, Dept. of the Ohio, to January, 1865. Military District of Kentucky to May, 1865. Dept. of Mississippi and the Gulf to March, 1866.
SERVICE.--Garrison and guard duty at various points in Kentucky until January, 1865. Action at Owensboro, Ky., October 22, 1864. Guard duty at Rock Island, Ill., January to May, 1865. Duty in the Dept. of Mississippi until March, 1866. Mustered out March 21, 1866.
 
109th U. S. Colored Infantry (USCI) organized at Louisville - July 5, 1864.
Attached to 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, District of Kentucky, 5th Division, 23rd Corps, Dept. of the Ohio, to October, 1864. Martindale's Provisional Brigade, 18th Corps, Army of the James, to December, 1864. 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 25th Corps and Dept. of Texas, to March, 1866.
SERVICE.--Duty at Louisville and Louisa, Ky., until October, 1864. Ordered to Join Army of the Potomac before Petersburg and Richmond, Va. Duty at Deep Bottom and in trenches before Richmond north of the James River until March, 1865. Actions at Fort Harrison December 10, 1864, and January 23, 1865. Moved to Hatcher's Run March 27-28. Appomattox Campaign March 28-April 9. Boydton Road, Hatcher's Run, March 29-31. Fall of Petersburg April 2. Pursuit of Lee April 3-9. Appomattox Court House April 9. Surrender of Lee and his army. Duty at Petersburg and City Point until May. Embarked for Texas May 25, arriving at Indianola, Texas, June 25. Duty there and on the Rio Grande, Texas, until March, 1866. Mustered out March 21, 1866.
 
114th U. S. Colored Infantry (USCI) organized at Camp Nelson - July 4, 1864.
Attached to Military District of Kentucky, Dept. of the Ohio, to January. 1865. 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, 25th Corps, Dept. of Virginia, to April, 1865. 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 25th Corps and Dept. of Texas, to April, 1867.
SERVICE.--Duty at Camp Nelson and Louisa, Ky:, until January, 1865. Ordered to Dept. of Virginia January 3, 1865. Siege operations against Petersburg and Richmond on the Bermuda Hundred Front until March, 1865. Appomattox Campaign March 28-April 9. Hatcher's Run March 29-31. Fall of Petersburg April 2. Pursuit of Lee April 3-9. Appomattox Court House April 9. Surrender of Lee and his army. Duty at Petersburg and City Point until June. Moved to Texas June and July. Duty at Brownsville and other points on the Rio Grande, Texas, until April, 1867. Mustered out April 2, 1867.
 
115th U. S. Colored Infantry (USCI) organized at Bowling Green - July 15 to October 21, 1864.
Attached to 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division, District of Kentucky, 5th Division, 23rd Corps, Dept. of the Ohio, to January, 1865. 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 25th Corps, Dept. of Virginia, to March, 1865. 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, 25th Corps and Dept. of Texas, to February, 1866.
SERVICE.--Garrison duty at Lexington, Ky., until December, 1864. Ordered to Virginia. Siege operations against Petersburg and Richmond January to April, 1865. Occupation of Richmond April 3. Duty in the Dept. of Virginia until May. Sailed for Texas May 20. Duty in District of the Rio Grande until February, 1866. Mustered out February 10, 1866.
 
116th U. S. Colored Infantry (USCI) organized at Camp Nelson - June 6 to July 12, 1864.
Attached to Military District of Kentucky, Dept. of the Ohio, to September, 1864. Unattached, 10th Corps, Army of the James, to November, 1864. 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, 10th Corps, to December, 1864. 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 25th Corps, to April, 1865. 3rd Brigade, 2nd Division, 25th Corps and Dept. of Texas, to September, 1866. Dept. of the Gulf to January, 1867.
SERVICE.--Duty at Camp Nelson until September, 1864. Defense of Camp Nelson and Hickman's Bridge against Forest's attack. Ordered to join Army of the James in Virginia, reporting to General Butler September 27. Duty at City Point, Va., until October. Moved to Deep Bottom October 23. Siege operations against Petersburg and Richmond October 23, 1864, to April 2, 1865. Operations on north side of the James River before Richmond October 27-28, 1864. Fatigue duty at Deep Bottom, Dutch Gap and in trenches before Richmond until March, 1865. Moved to Hatcher's Run March 27-28. Appomattox Campaign March 28-April 9. Boydton Road, Hatcher's Run, March 29-31. Fall of Petersburg April 2. Pursuit of Lee April 3-9. Appomattox Court House April 9. Surrender of Lee and his army. Duty at Petersburg until May 25. Embarked at City Point, Va., for Texas May 25, arriving at Brazos Santiago June 22. March to White's Ranch June 24. Duty at Rome, Texas, until February, 1866. In Sub-District, Lower Rio Grande, until September, 1866, and at New Orleans, La., until January, 1867. Mustered out at Louisville, Ky., January 17, 1867.
 
117th U. S. Colored Infantry (USCI) organized at Covington - July 18 to September 27, 1864.
Attached to Military District of Kentucky, Dept. of the Ohio, to October, 1864. Provisional Brigade, 18th Corps, Army of the James, to December, 1864. 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 25th Corps and Dept. of Texas, to August, 1867.
SERVICE.--Duty at Camp Nelson, Ky., until October, 1864. Ordered to Baltimore, Md., thence to City Point, Va., October 21. Siege operations against Petersburg and Richmond until March, 1865. Appomattox Campaign March 28-April 9. Hatcher's Run March 29-31. Fall of Petersburg April 2. Pursuit of Lee April 3-9. Appomattox Court House April 9. Surrender of Lee and his army. Duty at Petersburg and City Point until June. Moved to Brazos Santiago, Texas, June and July. Duty at Brownsville and on the Rio Grande, Texas, until August, 1867. Mustered out August 10, 1867.
 
119th U. S. Colored Infantry (USCI) organized at Camp Nelson - January 18 to May 16, 1865.
            Attached to Dept. of Kentucky and duty at various points in that State until April, 1866.  Mustered out April 27, 1866.
 
120th U. S. Colored Infantry (USCI) organized at Henderson - November, 1864.
Garrison and guard duty at various points in Military District and Dept. of Kentucky until June, 1865. Discontinued June 21, 1865.
 
121st U. S. Colored Infantry (USCI) organized at Maysville - October 8, 1864.
            Garrison and guard duty at various points in Military District and Dept. of Kentucky until June, 1865.  Discontinued June 30, 1865.
 
122nd U. S. Colored Infantry (USCI) organized at Louisville - December 31, 1864.
Ordered to Virginia January 12, 1865. Attached to 25th Corps, Army of the James, Unassigned, to April, 1865. Dept. of Texas to February, 1866.
SERVICE.--Duty in the Defenses of Portsmouth, Va., until February, 1865. Siege operations against Petersburg and Richmond, Va., February to April, 1865. Fall of Petersburg and Richmond April 2-3. Duty in the Dept. of Virginia until June, 1865. Moved to Brazos Santiago, Texas, June and July. Duty at Brownsville and at various points on the Rio Grande until February, 1866. Mustered out February 8, 1866.
 
123rd U. S. Colored Infantry (USCI) organized at Louisville - December 2, 1864.
            Duty at Louisville, Ky., and other points in the Dept. of Kentucky until October, 1865.  Mustered out October 24, 1865. 
 
124th U. S. Colored Infantry (USCI) organized at Camp Nelson - January 1 to April 27, 1865.
            Garrison and guard duty at various points in the Dept. of Kentucky until December, 1867.  Mustered out December 20, 1867.
 
125th U. S. Colored Infantry (USCI) organized at Louisville - February 12 to June 2, 1865.
Garrison and guard duty at Louisville, Ky., and other points in the Dept. of Kentucky until December, 1867.  Mustered out December 20, 1867.
 
Sources:
Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park, Jessamine County, Kentucky.
Civil War Archive.com
Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. 3 vols. New York, 1959.
Gladstone, William A. Men of Color, 1993.
Kentucky Military Records and Research Branch, Frankfort, Kentucky.
Kireker, Charles History of the 116th Regiment, U. S. C. Infantry, 1866.
National Park Service.  Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Database. Soldiers and Sailors
Database - The Civil War (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)
Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky, v. II 1861-1866, Union Soldiers,
Appendix.
United States War Department.  The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official
Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.  128 vols.  Washington: GPO, 1880-1901.
 
 

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