In the summer of 1863, the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry Regiment of the Union Army was engaged with Confederate forces in our area at Honey Springs in Creek Nation (northeast of present-day Checotah ), at the Canadian River (south of Eufaula), and at Perryville in the Choctaw Nation (just south of McAlester.) It was the 1st Kansas Colored that is credited with the burning of Perryville, then the county seat of Tobucksy and former Capitol of the Choctaw Nation.
The 1st Kansas Colored (later the 79th US Colored Infantry) was an African-American regiment that served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. The regiment was organized before the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation and without federal authorization, becoming the first black unit to see fight alongside white soldiers in the October War of 1862.
Kansas had been the site of intermittent political violence since its colonization as a territory in 1854. Its entry into the Union as a free state in January 1861 and the outbreak of the Civil War three months later caused an escalation violence, especially from irregulars. In 1862, James H. Lane, a U.S. Senator and Union general who had been an anti-slavery supporter during the Bleeding Kansas era, was recruiting commissioner for Kansas north of the Kansas River. As an abolitionist “jayhawker” operating on the frontier of sectional violence, Lane ignored Lincoln’s concern to maintain Union loyalty in pro-slavery border states and violated the direct orders of Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton by recruiting a regiment of free blacks without a federal government. authorisation.
By 1862, countless escaped slaves from Arkansas and Missouri had successfully liberated Kansas, and many of their journeys were made possible by James Lane, who led liberation raids into Missouri. Exploiting this new source of manpower, Lane circumvented Stanton’s wishes by enlisting black military recruits as “labourers”. On August 4, 1862, Lane gave the order to raise a full regiment under the command of Captain James M. Williams. Although the 1st Kansas marked a turning point in the enlistment of black soldiers, the motives of Lane and other proponents of black enlistment were a mixture of abolitionist enlightenment and political or military expediency.
Joining the infantry had its advantages. African Americans who joined were promised $10.00 a month along with better conditions, including clothing, rations, and adequate housing. In addition, black enlistees and their immediate families received certificates of freedom. In 1862, the 600 enlisted members of the First Kansas Colored Infantry were organized in Bourbon County near Fort Lincoln.
One of the first postings, the infantry was sent to northeast Indian Territory to maintain federal control over the region. They linked up with the Frontier Army, which was large due to its inclusion of Indian and white regiments.
Kansas’ First Colored Infantry fought in the Battle of Honey Springs on July 17, 1863, the largest Civil War battle in Indian Territory. The black soldiers as part of the advancing Union forces were able to approach within 40 yards of the Confederate line and hold their position under heavy fire until the Confederates withdrew.
Just under 3,000 men of the First and accompanying smaller units encountered a slightly larger force of rebel infantry. The First swept the rebels from the battlefield and eventually from the surrounding area. They killed six Confederates for every Union man killed. One of the Confederates wrote: “They are too strong for us. … They are some seven or eight thousand good fighters. I know this because I have tried them and they are as good as us, better trained and better armed.
Beginning August 22, the First Kansas Colored Infantry advanced against Confederate forces at Canadian River. The rebel forces withdrew without a fight.
The regiment then advanced against the forces at Perryville, and the Confederates again withdrew without a fight. In Ian Michael Spurgeon’s book, “Soldiers in the Army of Freedom”, there is a brief mention that General Blunt “pushed 4,500 men, including detachments from First Kansas to Perryville, IT The First burned Perryville
Despite the skepticism of white Northerners, the precedent of skill and bravery set by units like the 1st Kansas gradually led public opinion as many skeptical white Northerners came to favor black enlistment. As African American regiments became more common, the 1st Kansas continued to serve in southeastern Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas. The 1st Kansas was redesignated the 79th US Colored Infantry on December 13, 1864.
Kansas’ First Colored Infantry is commemorated at the Honey Springs Battlefield with both a memorial and new battlefield signage. The regiment is also commemorated at several other places where it served.
In 1989, moviegoers were captivated by the heroism of the 54th Massachusetts, the African-American regiment depicted in the movie Glory. Hailed as “one of the finest historical dramas ever made”, this Oscar-winning film was nonetheless misrepresented as “the story of America’s first unit of black soldiers during the Civil War”. In fact, this distinction could easily be attributed to the First Kansas Colored Infantry Regiment, which received its “baptism of fire” in the fall of 1862 and, within a year, distinguished itself as a fighting unit at Honey Springs, Canadian River and Perryville, Indian Territory.