The 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry was one of the earliest African-American regiments organized during the American Civil War. James Lane, former lieutenant governor of Indiana and House Representative, was appointed as Commissioner for Recruiting in the Department of Kansas on July 22, 1862. Lane’s recruiting policies, however, did not follow the government’s traditional guidelines. President Abraham Lincoln refused authority to General David Hunter, Commander of the Department of the South in South Carolina, to raise African-American troops, but Lane ignored the order since it had not been directly issued to him. In August 1862, Lane issued General Order No. 2, allowing African-Americans to enlist in the service of the United States. He then appointed Capt. James Williams and Henry Seaman to enlist both blacks and whites.
Lane began organization of the 1st and 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry, but had difficulties finding men to fill the ranks. He eventually resorted to raiding towns in Missouri and liberating slaves. Within sixty days, Lane had 500 men enlisted in the 1st Kansas Colored.(1) Williams was promoted to colonel and given command of the regiment.
In late October 1862, the five companies from the 1st Kansas Colored successfully engaged a large force of Rebels at the Battle of Island Mound. The engagement marked the first time African-American troops from a northern state engaged Confederate troops as soldiers. By the end of the War, the men of the 1st Kansas Colored were seasoned veterans, seeing further action at Honey Springs, Cabin Creek and Flat Rock in Indian Territory, and Poison Springs in Arkansas. Through Community & Conflict researchers can view the regimental order book for the 1st Kansas Colored. The order book documents correspondences, general orders and special orders between 1863 and 1864. During this period, the 1st Kansas Colored was stationed in southeastern Kansas, southwestern Missouri, western Arkansas and Indian Territory, Oklahoma.
(1) Hondon B. Hargrove, Black Union Soldiers in the Civil War, (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1988), 57.
James M. Williams, image courtesy of the U.S. Army Military History Institute
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