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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -
150 years ago President Lincoln first drafted the Emancipation Proclamation but just days before that, local black soldiers were already fighting for the Queen City.
Cincinnati may not stand today if it weren't for the Black Brigade, the first African-American military group in the north. The city originally forced black soldiers to serve but the Union Army later let them volunteer.
"As the story goes, they were herded into a pig pen on Plum Street at gun point and moved down into Northern Kentucky and made to work," said Dr. Charles Dillard. "That's the beautiful part of this story-that given the chance to volunteer, they did."
Dr. Dillard is a fourth generation Cincinnatian whose ancestors served in the Black Brigade.
While residents of the Tri-state can witness reenactments of battle in Sharon Woods, the soldiers of Cincinnati never fired a single shot during the Civil War.
In September of 1862 Confederate General Henry Heath marched north from Louisville and tried to invade the city of Cincinnati but there was one thing standing in his way - the Black Brigade.
"If the African Americans had not stood up at this time period, Cincinnati probably would have fallen to the Confederacy," said Richard Cooper of the Freedom Center.
Colonel William Dickson called for black volunteers to build batteries along the Licking River. Although they used shovels instead of pistols, over 1,000 African Americans jumped at the chance to serve in the Black Brigade.
"This was great for them, to become soldiers of the Union army," Cooper continued. "They fought for this, they wanted to become citizens of the United States."
The Black Brigade's defenses deterred the Confederate army. Dillard's great-great grandfather Samuel Lewis, his great-grandfather Archer Lewis and his great-grand uncle Samuel Lewis Jr. came home to a hero's welcome. Without knowing it, Dillard followed in his ancestors' footsteps.
"It's ironic that I've spent over 30 years in the military. I was a one-star General," said Dillard. "My family went from being forced into labor in the Civil War to being a General in Uncle Sam's peacetime army."
After the Black Brigade, Archer went on to work as a lumberjack while Samuel Junior worked for the city and even ran for Governor. 78-year-old Dillard knows how much times have changed and how his family helped change them.
"So that my relatives, my people were one of the first black groups fighting for themselves, fighting for their freedom."
Thanks to our heroes of the Black Brigade, the Civil War in Cincinnati is just make-believe.
On February 12, 2013, Dr. Dillard will celebrate his 45th anniversary of practicing medicine in Cincinnati, the same day that President Lincoln would have turned 204.
Be sure to check out the FOX19 Facebook Timeline for more photos and interesting facts about the Black Brigade during the Civil War.