By John R. Trowbridge

Archivist, Kentucky Historical Society
Frankfort, Kentucky

Officially 23,703 Kentucky African Americans 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, 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.


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