First Kansas Colored Infantry Regiment
First Black Unit to Engage the Confederates
by Bennie J. McRae, Jr.
(Copyright 1994. LWF Publications. Reprinted from the July, 1994 edition of Lest We Forget).
The First Kansas Colored Infantry Regiment was organized at Fort Scott, Kansas during the month of August 1862 under the direction of James Lane, Kansas Abolitionist, Senator, and General in the Kansas state militia. He issued an order giving authority to recruiting officers to enlist volunteers of African descent into the service of the United States. The order was in defiance of the policies of the President Abraham Lincoln and the Secretary of War Department Edwin Stanton.
Colonel James M. Williams was appointed commander of the regiment made up mostly of fugitive slaves from Arkansas and Missouri. They wore non-regulation uniforms until May of 1864 and had the distinction of being the first black unit to engage the enemy even before the regiment was mustered into service. On October 29, 1862, a skirmish occurred at Island Mound, Missouri with a unit of Confederate guerrillas that resulted in the first combat death of black soldiers in the Civil War.
The regiment was mustered into federal service on January 13, 1863 and redesignat ed 79th United States Colored Infantry Regiment (New) on December 13, 1864. The 79th United States Colored Infantry Regiment (Old) organized as the 7th Infantry Corps d' Afrique in Louisiana was deactivated in July 1864.
The 79th USCI engaged the enemy in battle at the following locations after being mustered into service: Sherwood, Missouri, May 18, 1863; Cabin Creek, Cherokee Nation, July 1 and 2, 1863; Honey Springs, Indian Territory, July 17, 1863; Lawrence, Kansas, July 27, 1863; Horse-Head Creek, Arkansas, February 17, 1864; Roseville Creek, Arkansas, March 20, 1864; Prairie D'Ann, Arkansas, April 13, 1864; Poison Springs, Arkansas, April 18, 1864; Jenkins' Ferry, Arkansas, April 30, 1864; Fort Gibson, Cherokee Nation, September 16, 1864; Timber Creek, Cherokee Nation, November 19,1864; Joy's Ford, Arkansas, January 8, 1865; and Clarksville, Arkansas, January 18, 1865.
A high percentage of total enlistments was killed in battle with the regiment ranking 21st among all Union Regiments. A large number of the men were massacred during the battle of Poison Springs, Arkansas which was similar to the massacre of black soldiers at Fort Pillow, Tennessee on April 12, 1864 by Confederate soldiers under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
The Second Kansas Colored Infantry Regiment under the command of Brevet colonel J. H. Gillpatrick avenged the slaughter of its sister regiment during another battle at Jenkins' Ferry, Arkansas on May 4, 1864 when they charged the enemy with the battle cry, "Remember Poison Spring."
The 79th USCI was mustered out of service on October 1, 1865.
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