Officially, 23,703 African Americans in Kentucky responded to the call to arms by President 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; Camp Nelson, located in Jessamine County, was the second largest recruiting and training facility for African Americans in the country.Green Hill Cemetery
In June 1863 the 4th US Colored Field Artillery (Heavy) located in Columbus, Kentucky 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, Tennessee; Fort Donelson, Tennessee; along the Northwestern Railroad; Johnsonville, Tennessee; Nashville, Tennessee; Saltville, Virgina; Bermuda, Virginia; Fort Fisher, North Carolina; Sugar Loaf Hill, North Carolina; Federal Point, North Carolina; Fort Anderson, North Carolina; Wilmington, North Carolina; Kinston, North Carolina; Goldsboro, North Carolina; Cox's Bridge, North Carolina; Raliegh, North Carolina; Bennett's House, North Carolina; and Duvall's Bluff, Arkansas.
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 US 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. Instead, they 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 the 125th US Colored Infantry was mustered out, thus becoming the last United States Colored Troop unit to be discharged from the Army.
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.
Funded in part by:
· Magurite Shaunice, Green Hill Cemetery Board
· The Kentucky African American Heritage Commission / Kentucky Heritage Council
· The Franklin County Trust for Historic Preservation
· Center of Excellence for the Study of Kentucky African Americans at Kentucky State University (CESKAA)
· The Kentucky Historical Society Military History Museum