National Park Services photo of Camp Nelson National Monument, Kentucky

Welcome to the Kentucky U.S. Colored Troops Project

Reckoning, Inc. is 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to examine the legacy of slavery in America, and to create ways for communities to engage with this information through research projects, media productions, educational curricula, online content, and other means. Since the 2020 premier of our public radio and podcast series, The Reckoning, our organization’s activities have expanded to include several different initiatives. 

While researching The Reckoning radio series, we stumbled on a pretty extraordinary resource at the National Archives. It is a set of ledger books that were created to keep track of African American men who joined the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) from Kentucky. There are roughly 11,000 soldiers listed in these ledgers, 9,000 of whom had been enslaved.

What makes these books so valuable is that, for every man listed who was enslaved, it provides us with an array of facts about him that would otherwise be preserved in no other document: his first and last name, his birth year, his birth location, when and where he enlisted, and it also lists the name of his enslaver, because President Lincoln had promised those loyal to the Union that they would be compensated $300 for any enslaved man who joined the Union Army. We think of these ledgers as a kind of “Rosetta Stone” that unlocks so much previously hidden information about enslaved people from Kentucky.
Page from Kentucky Colored Volunteer Army Soldier Ledger
Sample page from ledger book

We are beginning this project by researching the lives of approximately 750 soldiers from nine counties in Kentucky that surround Louisville, going as far back in time as possible through slave schedules, church records, wills, and estate settlements, and as far forward in time as possible, through pension documents, census data, newspapers, and other resources, to create a database record for each soldier and and his family with links to primary source documents as well as a family tree. The results of all this research are published on this website, with new information added regularly. 

Currently, you can find records for approximately 200 soldiers who were born in Jefferson County, where Louisville is located. You can
browse through the soldiers’ records, or you can search for a particular name, either for a soldier, or a person who enslaved one or more of the soldiers.

If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation of any amount to support this project, please go to our 
donation page.

Please read the June 19, 2022, Courier-Journal cover story below to learn more about the project. You can also watch an informative video presentation recorded in December 2021 at a virtual event for the Filson Historical Society in Louisville.

On this episode of the Think Humanities podcast, host Bill Goodman talks to Dan Gediman about the Kentucky U.S. Colored Troops Project, which uses historical documents to identify African American soldiers from Kentucky who fought in the Civil War.

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