[This post has been updated to include a link at the bottom to the City of Fort Wright's Resolution proposing to name the I-75 companion bridge the "Black Brigade of Cincinnati Bridge".]
By Patricia A. Scheyer
December 15, 2023
Tim Siegrist, a resident of Ft Wright, spoke to a recent Ft Wright city council meeting to suggest a name for the companion bridge scheduled to be built across the Ohio River.
“With Ft Wright being one of the four cities directly affected by the upcoming construction of I-75 and the companion bridge, I have a suggestion for the naming of the companion bridge,” he said. “In order to keep the name free of all politics, as we don’t need any more divisions among citizens, I suggest the companion bridge be named the Black Brigade of Cincinnati bridge.”
He explained that the Black Brigade were free men living in Cincinnati during the Civil War. According to historical reports, the black people in Cincinnati at the time were not treated well by many people who apparently didn’t like having the slaves escape to their state, even though Ohio was ostensibly a Union state who did not countenance slavery.
Siegrist said that at one point in 1862 Confederate forces had defeated armies in Richmond, Ky, and were advancing on Cincinnati. Major General Lew Wallace put the city under martial law on September 1, and asked that all the men in the city help construct fortifications in the area. But a hastily gathered band of police allegedly rounded up all the black males and they were forced at gunpoint to work at constructing the fortifications, surviving on one meager meal a day and no sleep or compensation, according to Peter Clark, a member of the Black Brigade.
A Cincinnati newspaper decried the plight of the men, and it came to the attention of Wallace, who then put Colonel William Dickson in charge, and reprimanded the original band of guards. He ordered immediate release of the men. and the next day asked for volunteers to help the army defend the city. Seven hundred and six black men agreed to help, and the next day were given all the rights of any army private. A pontoon bridge was erected to let the brigade travel into Northern Kentucky to fortify the area with rifle pits and forts.
One of the forts that were built was Battery Hooper in Ft Wright, and several others were located from Ft. Thomas to Bromley.
According to reports in Wikipedia, 1,000 black men helped to defend the city, and the Confederate troops were turned away by the end of September of 1862. There were 700 men in the brigade who built the fortifications, and 300 more who worked in military camps, in the city and on gun boats.
Later, Colonel Dickson was given an engraved sword by the brigade, and he praised the men, saying, “…you have labored cheerfully and effectively. Go to your homes with the consciousness of having performed your duty…..and bearing with you the gratitude and respect of all honorable men.”
A memorial monument was erected in Smale Park during the 150th anniversary of the 1862 defense of Cincinnati. The names of 700 soldiers are engraved on it.
“I think we could all learn some history by honoring these men,” Siegrist said. “They are a part of Ft Wright’s history. If you find it appropriate, I ask council to pass a resolution to honor these men in this way. Keep in mind, this bridge, as well as the others, connect the north to the south.”
Mayor Dave Hatter said he didn’t mind having council pass a resolution, but at this point he wasn’t sure who to send it to.
“Obviously our ability to influence what they name that bridge is probably going to be extremely limited,” he said, indicating with his finger and thumb the tiny amount of probability. “So we can pass a resolution, and we can certainly ask them to do that, but I’ll be honest, I don’t even know who we’re asking at this point. I don’t know if it is the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet or the Ohio Department of Transportation or what. Again, I don’t have an problem with it, and I don’t think anyone here has an issue with it, so I think we could put something together for the next meeting, and work it up the chain, but in terms of where it goes from here…..”
“I know that,” said Siegrist. “And the bridge is about ten years before it’s time. But if suggestions (for the name of the bridge) come out of all kinds of things that people aren’t going to like from all over the place, this is one that kind of doesn’t offend anyone that I can see.”
“Yes, I agree,” said Hatter. “We will get our resident wordsmith put together some kind of resolution.”
He gestured toward city Attorney Tim Theissen, who agreed to have something ready for the January meeting.
Councilman Scott Wall commended Siegrist for the idea, saying it was a nice sentiment.
Linke to original article: https://nkytribune.com/2023/12/fort-wright-resident-has-an-idea-for-a-name-for-the-ohio-river-companion-bridge-scheduled/
City of Fort Wright Resolution 01-2024