150 years ago: A foraging expedition… Today a monument to black soldiers

From the Kansas City Star:

Black soldiers’ 1862 valor finally recognized at Missouri site

BUTLER, Mo. — Earlier this week, the golden prairie-grass pasture here 70 miles south of Kansas City was quiet except for whistling wind and the distant growl of a tractor.

On Saturday, though, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources expects 200 people to gather on this spot about a mile up a gravel-covered Bates County road off Missouri 52 at 11 a.m. A band will play patriotic music, dignitaries will speak and a flag will rise as the state dedicates this farmland as a historic site.

A bronze plaque will be unveiled on a stone monument at the edge of this field, which in the past year has been transformed into a state park.

Here — on the Old Toothman farm — the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry set up headquarters 150 years ago, calling it Fort Africa.

Just a few miles to the south, these black men wearing Union blue fought in the Battle of Island Mound. They were the first former slaves and freed men to defeat Confederate forces in the Civil War.

The Butler ceremony will be part of a two-day event that begins today in Kansas City at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Center, 3700 Blue Parkway. The free reception starts at 6 p.m. with historians discussing the battle’s significance.

On Oct. 27, 1862, a group of black soldiers had set out on a foraging expedition from Fort Africa. As they crossed over a low hill called Island Mound, the Union men encountered Confederate forces and engaged in a fierce and bloody clash.

It would later be said that those black soldiers “fought like tigers.” Eight members of the unit were killed, including one white officer and one Cherokee. The six black soldiers and the Native American were buried in the field. Eleven other men were wounded.

Rebel losses are unknown, but some historians speculate that as many as 40 were killed….

(Full article)

The article goes on to mention efforts to make Island Mound into a state historical site.

This is another of the hallmarks of sesquicentennialism – more attention to the service of the African-Americans who served the Union cause.  Was a similar memorial possible fifty years ago?  I’ll leave it to the reader to decide.  What I will champion are more such memorials this time around.

Another welcome change from fifty years ago is the attention paid to the less glamorous, smaller engagements such as Island Mound.  Maybe it wasn’t a “Gettysburg” but men fought and died there.

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

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