Daviess County U. S. Colored Troops in the Civil War

Historical Marker #2467 commemorates the Daviess County United States Colored Troops in the Civil War. In 1864, several hundred enslaved African American men joined the Union army in Daviess County. Many black recruits from surrounding counties came directly into Daviess County since it was one of the largest cities in the area. Most of these men were farmers and defied their masters to walk long distances to Owensboro to enlist.

A 1792 law barring free black from bearing arms in the U.S. Army restricted African American enlistments initially during the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln also had concerned permitting black men to serve in the military would drive boarder states like Kentucky to secede. The Second Confiscation and Militia Act of 1862 freed slaves who had masters serving in the Confederate army and authorized the formation of black regiments to build fortifications, guard critical positions, and provide other labor. The number of black regiments was few until activists like Frederick Douglass convinced men enlisting was a way to ensure eventual freedom and full citizenship for the men and their families.

Units raised in Daviess County took part in important operations at Richmond, Petersburg, and Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, as well as campaigns in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Louisiana. Recruits served in the 100th, 109th, and 118th U.S. Colored Infantry and the 5th and 6th U.S. Colored Calvary. There was much opposition among pro-slavery Kentucky Unionists to the recruitment of slaves. Therefore, black men in Daviess County took great risks to themselves and their families by enlisting in the army.

Although black men had more opportunities conditions in the military remained harsh. The segregated troops were commanded by colored troops. As early as summer 1863, the Union declared equal protection for all its soldiers. However, segregation continued and African American recruits were paid lower wages. Some troops protested the unequal pay by refusing to draw any earnings until they were given equal pay. After the Union allowed black troops to fight, the Confederacy announced they would not treat blacks as soldiers and declared any blacks in Union uniform would be shot instead of taken as prisoners.

By the end of the war, over 179,000 blacks served in over 160 units and fought in over 400 military engagements. After the Civil War, large numbers of African Americans remained in the military. Many from Daviess County would return to the area after the war and purchase farms.