Battle for the Bridge
Soldiers for freedom
The Munfordville regiments included the 108th U.S.C. Infantry, which was organized in Louisville, and the 12th U.S.C. Heavy Artillery, which was organized at Camp Nelson, Jessamine County. The 108th at Munfordville included companies A, C, E, H, and G, which were under the command of Lt. Col. John S. Bishop and only stayed in camp until September 17.
The Second Battalion of the 12th U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery had a much longer tenure at Munfordville and were posted here from August, 1864 until September, 1865, when they moved to Columbus, Kentucky. This battalion consisted of Companies E, F, G, and sometimes I and was commanded by Lt. Col. Walter Babcock. Babcock or one of this subordinates (Behle, Weston, or Walford) were usually commanding the post until September, 1865. Exceptions to this include December, 1864, when Lt. Col. James H. Ward of the 27th Kentucky was commanding and in May, 1865 when the 12th U. S. C. H. A. regimental commander, Col. Norman S. Andrews, was in charge. Most members of the Second Battalion 12th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery enlisted at Bowling Green, where they may have received some preliminary training. Most of these enlistees were from western Kentucky. Some recruits even entered Munfordville to enlist, but these were escorted on foot or by train to the official enlistment station in Bowling Green.
While at Munfordville, members of the Second Battalion received additional training, including their first training on artillery. A detachment of the 2nd Ohio Heavy Artillery assisted in this training. While at Munfordville these soldiers performed drill, garrison, and guard duty. After August, 1864, they were the occupants of the four forts on the north side of the river.
A December 16, 1864 inspection of Munfordville gives an evaluation of the soldiers of the 12th as follows:
The 12th U. S. C. H. Art. with Head Qrs at Munfordville are doing guard duty in the fortifications at Munfordville and Muldraugh's Hill, four companies under Command of Capt. J P. Cole at Munfordville and three Companies under Command of Major Behl at Muldraugh's Hill, the other companies of this Regiment are serving in Second brigade under command of Major N. H. Foster; much praise is due the officers of this Regiment for the energy and interest they are taking in it. The men, considering the time they have been in the service, go through the various evolutions of the drill in an admirable manner, most especially in the "Manual of Arms." They are under good discipline and their arms, clothing, and quarters are kept clean and neat. I consider the Regiment good and efficient in every respect and deserving of great praise. (T. H. Farrell, Dec. 16, 1864, RG 393 Pt 1, Entry 2217).
The soldiers of the 12th, like many soldiers, overstepped their authority and had to be reprimanded by their colonel.
It having come to the knowledge of the Colonel commanding that soldiers of this command have been guilty of unauthorized interference with citizens of Munfordville and vicinity in demanding of them provisions, renumeration, and the privilege of searching their houses; and by this doing bringing discredit upon the whole community....
Your officers are responsible for your good conduct, they have voluntarily taken command of you and have to bear the odium attached to officers of Colored Troops and by their Gentlemanly department have so far overcome the prejudice existing against them that the Community are not only beginning to respect them, but "You," and as soldiers and freeman. You should do everything in your power, to uphold your officers in their endeavors to elevate you. You are no longer slaves but soldiers and men, and as such must conduct yourselves orderly and Gentlemanly, be vigilant and truthful, and nobly earn the freedom which has been offered you. You receive the same pay, and are on the same footing of white soldiers, and your term of service is the same as theirs. Yet in addition to your pay you obtain the greatest boon of life, your own freedom and that of your families. As your Commanding Officer, I shall bestow the praise you merit; I shall as certainly punish the refractory and disobedient. (Col. N. S. Andrews, May 23, 1865, NA, RG 94, 12th USCHA Regimental Papers).
Very few personal accounts by Kentucky's African-American soldiers have been published or located in archives, so it is difficult for us to gain an understanding of their perspective of this experience, but a few do exist. One letter by Sgt. George Thomas of the 12th U. S. Colorel Heavy Artillery is particularly insightful on experiences along the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.
I enlisted in the 12th U. S. Colored Heavy Artillery in the Fall of 1864, and my only sorrow is that I did not enlist sooner......Our regiment now numbers nearly seventeen hundred men, and is stationed all along the Louisville and Nashville railroad, from Louisville to this place [Bowling Green]. The first battalion is stationed here doing garrison duty; almost too easy for soldiers, me thinks. We have dress parade downtown in the public square, and we are drilled very well, the former slaveholders open their eyes, astonished that their former Kentucky working stock are capable of being on an equal footing with them at last. (George Thomas, July 18, 1865, cited from Redkey 1992: p.189-190).