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Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback was the free-born son of a wealthy white planter, William Pinchback, and his longtime mistress, an emancipated slave named Eliza Steward. William Pinchback's family successfully challenged his will after his death in 1848, leaving Eliza and their five children destitute. Fearing that Pinchback's relatives would attempt to enslave them, Eliza moved the family to Cincinnati, where Pinchback attended Gilmore's High School.

In 1862, after working as a steward on a Mississippi riverboat, Pinchback joined the Union Army in New Orleans He recruited and commanded a company of the Corps d Afrique a Louisiana cavalry unit Initially all of the Corps d Afrique s officers were black The black officers learned however that their commissions were subject to qualification examinations All of the black officers except Pinchback were replaced by white officers When authorities repeatedly ignored Pinchback s demands for equal treatment ...