|Powhatan Beaty |
wearing his Medal of Honor
Powhatan Beaty was born into slavery in Richmond, Virginia.
After leaving school, he was apprenticed to Henry Boyd, a black furniture maker, and became an experienced wood lathe operator.
Boyd had been born a slave in 1802 in Kentucky. His owner hired him out as a cabinetmaker, and he was able to buy his freedom at 18. Upon his arrival in Cincinnati, he couldn't find work in his trade. Instead he worked for 10 years as a longshoreman and house builder. Boyd eventually earned enough money to purchase the freedom of his brother and sister. He saved his money to open his first furniture shop in 1836. In 1842, he moved to a second factory, a four-building complex at Broadway and Eighth Streets, where Boyd employed 50 people: a mix of black, white and immigrant workers. Boyd developed a process to make the "Boyd Bedstead".
|Reproduction of Henry Boyd Advertisement|
|Boyd's Furniture Stamp|
|James Edward Murdoch|
Cincinnati's mayor, George Hatch, ordered all business closed, and Union General Lew Wallace declared martial law, seized sixteen steamboats and had them armed, and organized the citizens of Cincinnati, as well as the riverfront cities of Covington and Newport, Kentucky, for defense. On the 1st of September, Wallace set up headquarters in the Burnet House hotel, where he met late into the night with the mayors of Cincinnati, Newport and Covington. By the next morning, 15,000 volunteers were drilling in the streets.
After the declaration of martial law on September 2, 1862, Cincinnati Mayor George Hatch ordered the police department to gather any and all able-bodied African American males for work on fatigue duty on the fortifications in Northern Kentucky. Men were driven from their homes and businesses by bayonet point to a mule pen on Plum Street in downtown Cincinnati. After being held overnight, with no way of contacting their families, on September 3rd the men were taken as a group across the Ohio River to begin work on the earthwork fortifications.
The Cincinnati Gazette published the following protest:
Let our colored fellow-soldiers be treated civilly, and not exposed to any unnecessary tyranny, nor to the insults a race which they profess to regard as inferior. It would have been decent to have invited the colored inhabitants to turn out in defense of the city. Then there would have been an opportunity to compare their patriotism with that of those who were recently trying to drive them from the city. Since the services of men are required from our colored brethren, let them be treated like men.
|William Martin Dickson|
Among those men was Beaty, who served in Company Number 1 of the Brigade's 3rd Regiment. His unit was assigned to build defenses near the Licking River in Kentucky. For the next fifteen days, they cleared forests, constructed forts, magazines and roads, and dug trenches and rifle pits.
|Memorial to Black Brigade, Cincinnati, Ohio|
You have labored faithfully; you have made miles of military roads, miles of rifle pits, felled hundreds of acres of the largest and loftiest forest trees, built magazines and forts. The hills across yonder river will be a perpetual monument of your labors... Go to your homes with the consciousness of having performed your duty - of deserving, if you do not receive, the protection of the law, and bearing with you the gratitude and respect of all honorable men.
|Memorial to Black Brigade, Cincinnati, Ohio|
|127th Ohio Volunteer Infantry|
The Confederacy viewed the use of United States Colored Troops (USCT) as “inciting servile insurrection.” The Confederate Secretary of War made it clear that “slaves in flagrant rebellion[meaning USCTs] are subject to death” and that they “cannot be recognized in any way as soldiers subject to the rules of war…summary execution must therefore be inflicted on those taken [prisoner].” And it wasn’t just Southern soldiers who despised USCTs. One Virginia woman wrote to her husband who was a soldier in Lee’s army that he must, “shoot [black soldiers], dear husband, every chance you get…It is God’s will and wish for you to destroy them. Your [sic] are his instrument and it is your Christian duty.” So the black soldiers and white officers who attacked New Market Heights suffered form no delusions as to what might happen to them should they fall into enemy hands.
|The Battle of New Market Heights|
September 29, 1864
In the aftermath of the battle, some Confederate soldiers were moved to sympathy after witnessing such a brave charge into the face of certain death. One wrote that “in my opinion, no troops to that time had fought us with more bravery than did those negroes.” A soldier in the same brigade, however, recorded in his diary that “our men now have a perfect contempt for negro soldiers. It is almost a pity to put such things into battle.”
Four days after the battle, General Benjamin Butler reported to Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, “My colored troops under General Paine. . . carried intrenchments at the point of a bayonet. . . It was most gallantly done, with most severe loss. Their praises are in the mouth of every officer in this army. Treated fairly and disciplined, they have fought most heroically.”
|Medal of Honor|
After the war, Beaty returned to Cincinnati. On July 27, 1865, he married Mary C. Lee. They had several children, with only three living to adulthood: Albert Lee Beaty (born 1871), Powhatan Beaty (born 1877), and John Beaty (born 1879).
|Henrietta Vinton Davis|
|Melodeon Hall, downtown Cincinnati, Ohio|
Beaty continued to tour with Davis and performed a show in Philadelphia before returning to Cincinnati. He helped form his city's Literary and Dramatic Club and, in 1888, became the organization's drama director.
In a pension report in 1891, he stated that he was unable to earn a support by manual labor by reason of defective eye sight, and a fracture in his skull caused by falling in a charge at New Market Heights, Virginia.
Beaty's wife died in 1899. He died at a the age of 79 on December 6, 1916. He was buried at Union Baptist Cemetery.
|Grave of Powhatan Beaty|
Marsh said after the dedication ceremony, "To recognize the heroism of Powhatan Beaty is the right thing to do. He was an extraordinary soldier and American. That's the kind of heroism that Americans have established over the years."