After the Emancipation Proclamation, the Border States were entitled, by agreement with President Lincoln and the U.S. Government, to continue to practice enslavement without interference, as long as they remained in the Union. Complicating this agreement, was the enrollment of enslaved African Americans into military service for the Union. The understanding was that the Union would not “impress” enslaved men to serve, but this didn't address the men who independently ran away and enlisted on free soil, or were encouraged by Union soldiers to do so, primarily those held by slaveholders who were deemed disloyal to the Union.
Facing push-back from Border States, Lincoln suspended this recruitment policy in Missouri and Maryland. Meanwhile, the army was conducting a census of free men of color in Kentucky who were between 18 and 45 years of age, presumable for military recruitment purposes. In November, 1863, sanctioned recruitment of both free and enslaved African Americans in Tennessee and Maryland began, though with the added stipulation that loyal slaveholders be compensated for the loss of enslaved labor at a rate of $300 per man.
Lincoln next authorized the recruitment of African American volunteers in Missouri, with compensation only if papers of manumission were filed, though this met with opposition. By February of 1864, the Border States of Maryland and Kentucky were not meeting enlistment quotas overall. In response, Lincoln signed a bill to amend the Second Confiscation Act, a move would authorize African American enrollment in all states, to begin on March 7.
Compensation to Kentucky's loyal slaveholders was provided for, but it was not immediately clear whether permission of slaveholders was required. At the time, Kentucky law expressly laid out that “slave enticement” by soldiers was forbidden, even by Union Soldiers. The response was a disorganized effort to meet Federal and state conditions, causing inconsistent and confusing paperwork for recruitment officers and potential recruits.
In May 1864, all restrictions on enlistment of enslaved men was removed by the War Department including them in the required quota, resulting in huge response from Kentucky. Nearly 24,000 enslaved men enlisted, a number second only to Louisiana. Counties in Northern Kentucky were counted and many enlisted, most by late in the Fall of 1864, into early 1865.
On April 9, 1864, before the largest wave of enlistments in the region, the Cincinnati Enquirer published the following:
“The following statement shows the number of slaves and free colored persons liable to military duty, who have been enrolled in this (6th) Congressional District:”