Faithful and Ready: Black Service in the Ohio Army National Guard (Part I)

By arohmiller, posted on February 9th, 2015.
Filed under: News
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Written by: SFC Joshua Mann, Historian, Ohio Army National Guard

From the formation of the Northwest Territory Militia in 1788, until the termination of racial segregation in the Ohio National Guard in 1954 and service since, black Soldiers from Ohio have distinguished themselves in service to their country even in the face of difficult race, social and political barriers.

The National Colors of the Black Brigade of Cincinnati.

The National Colors of the Black Brigade of Cincinnati.

When the Northwest Territory Militia was born on July 25, 1788 it called for all physically-qualified males between the ages of sixteen and fifty to perform military service, providing no restriction on race or citizenship status. In defense of the frontier from Indian raids, many black Soldiers enrolled in the militia and participated in the defense of the settlements. However, in September 1799, the territorial legislature passed an updated militia law restricting military service to “able bodied, white male citizens.”

This restriction on military service, which many considered a rite of manhood in their community, continued officially for the next sixty years. Even as Ohio Soldiers answered the call for the War of 1812 and Mexican War, record of black Soldiers in either fight does not exist. However, with state and federal laws prohibiting non whites from serving in the organized militia, evidence exists of the formation of black independent militia companies in Ohio prior to the Civil War. In 1854 it was described that “A colored military company has been formed in Cincinnati, pronounced by competent judges to be well manned, well officered and well drilled. They have chosen the appropriate historic name of ‘Attacks Guards.” By 1860 another company, also named Attacks Guards, was formed in the Athens County village of Albany.

Even with the formation of these independent units, President Lincoln’s call for troops at the outbreak of the Civil War in April 1861 continued to be answered by the all white militia. In 1862, Ohio Governor David Todd proposed that the Ohio militia could improve with the admission of black volunteer companies and declared “these men would serve as a model for the future advancement of the colored race in Ohio.” Ohio lawmakers commended the governor’s efforts, but refused to change the law.

Tod’s inspiration to change the law might have grown from the service of the Black Brigade of Cincinnati in September 1862. As Confederate troops moved north through Kentucky and towards Ohio, Tod called upon all loyal Ohioans to help defend the southern border at Cincinnati. On the night of September 2, 1862, 700 black males were violently forced from their homes by Cincinnati Police. When William Martin Dickson arrived the next day to take command of the brigade, he found his troops laboring on the south side of the Ohio River at Fort Mitchell angered by their treatment the previous night. Dickson sent the men home with instructions to return the next morning at 5:00 a.m.

The following morning nearly all 700 men returned and went to work digging trenches and riffle-pits, building forts and making roads. Although they never participated in combat, the Black Brigade was the first wave of black volunteers to defend the state.

1st Sgt. Robert Pinn was a member of Company I, 5th United States Colored Troops during the American civil war and was one of only four blacks from Ohio to receive the Medal of Honor during the war. In 1874, the new armory in Stow was named in honor of Pinn.

1st Sgt. Robert Pinn was a member of Company I, 5th United States Colored Troops during the American civil war and was one of only four blacks from Ohio to receive the Medal of Honor during the war. In 1874, the new armory in Stow was named in honor of Pinn.

Many in the Black Brigade inspired by their service would later travel to Boston to enlist in the famous 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Governor Tod, upset that these Buckeyes were lost in the credits of other states, detailed Capt. Lewis McCoy of the 115th Ohio Volunteer Infantry to begin recruiting black Soldiers. A camp was established near Delaware and although progress at first was slow, the nuclease of the 127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry was finally formed by the fall of 1863. Soon after, the War Department called for colored troops and the 127th became the 5th United States Colored Troops (USCT) and headed off to war. During one fight at Chafin’s Farm in Virginia on September 29, 1864 Sergeants Beatty, Holland, Pinn and Brunson were later awarded the Medal of Honor, becoming the only black Ohioans to receive the award during the war.

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