Union Baptist Cemetery is tucked away in a quiet spot off Cleves-Warsaw Road in Covedale. It’s the oldest Baptist African-American cemetery in Cincinnati, run by the oldest black Baptist congregation in the city.
It’s also a monument to about 120 free black men. During the Civil War, they took up arms and fought as soldiers against a Confederate army that would have kept their people in bondage.
They might have been all but forgotten without help about 10 years ago from an unlikely source – a history teacher and his students at a rural high school in Washington Court House. They took up the cause of documenting the burial places of more than 3,000 African American soldiers from Ohio who fought in the Civil War.
Union Baptist Cemetery is one of many Ohio cemeteries history teacher Paul LaRue and his students visited. They walked among the gravestones to build a data base on the African-American soldiers buried there.
LaRue says the church invited him and his students to visit the cemetery.
By far, the most famous of the African-American soldiers buried at Union Baptist is Powhatan Beaty. He was born a slave in Virginia and came to Cincinnati at a young age. He had won his freedom by the time the Civil War began in 1861.
When the Union Army began forming all-black regiments in 1863, Beaty was eager to join. He became a first sergeant in the 5th U.S. Colored Troops. In a September 1864 battle in his home state of Virginia, Beaty’s bravery, LaRue says, won him the highest honor a soldier can attain - the Medal of Honor.
While Beaty may be the most famous of the Union soldiers buried at the cemetery, but there are others worth noting. Privates Leander Howard and Charles Goff are both interred at Union Baptist Cemetery. They’re combat-wounded veterans of a legendary all-black unit, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass founded the regiment, which became the subject of a major motion picture in 1989.
To LaRue and the students who worked on the project, Union Baptist Cemetery is a true Cincinnati treasure.
"It brought the Civil War, with all the dates and battles, to life for my students; it made it real,'' LaRue said. "These were real men who did amazing things. It is something of which Cincinnati should be proud."