By Roger McKinney
BUTLER, Mo. —
The Battle of Island Mound State Historic Site opens today, marking the first battle of the Civil War involving black soldiers.
The site, developed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, is eight miles southwest of Butler on Missouri Route K in Bates County.
The site opens at 10 a.m., followed by a dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. Activities from noon to 4 p.m. include artillery demonstrations, living history demonstrations, an archaeological display about the battle, stories from Civil War scholars and researchers, period music and food vendors.
The Battle of Island Mound took place 150 years ago, on Oct. 29, 1862. Black soldiers in the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment, under the command of radical Kansas abolitionist Brig. Gen. James Lane, arrived on Oct. 26 at the farm of imprisoned Butler bushwhacker John Toothman. The 200 black Union soldiers dubbed their base Fort Africa. They sought to capture a bushwhacker supply base, Hog Island, also called Osage Island.
The battle included bloody hand-to-hand combat with bayonets, sabers and rifle butts. Attacked by as many as 400 to 500 guerillas, the black soldiers eventually drove the Confederates out of the area.
The battle didn’t have any strategic significance, but the publicity resulted in President Abraham Lincoln officially accepting black troops into combat roles in the Union Army.
“Their performance is so encouraging that it is useless to talk anymore about Negro courage,” reported the Nov. 10, 1862, edition of the Chicago Tribune. “The men fought like tigers, each and every one of them.”
The soldiers of the 1st Kansas Colored experienced a tragic blow on May 18, 1963. A 45-man foraging party was sent to the village of Sherwood, in Jasper County. It’s north of Joplin near the present intersection of Peace Church and Fountain roads. The Union soldiers were ambushed by about 75 Confederate guerillas, who killed 15 black soldiers and mutilated their bodies.
The 1st Kansas Colored members distinguished themselves later at Big Cabin and Honey Springs in Oklahoma, and experienced heavy casualties at Poison Spring, Ark., on April 18, 1864. Confederates executed many of the captured and wounded black soldiers. Of the 301 Union deaths at Poison Spring, 117 were soldiers from the 1st Kansas.
The 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment suffered more casualties than any other Kansas regiment during the war.