During the Civil War, many military units had their own regimental flags that they would carry into battle, and this was true of units in the United States’ Colored Troops. On the third day of the month, I’ll display a flag from each of those regiments – depending on my ability to find these flags through internet searches and other sources.
These ladies are holding a replica of the regimental flag for the First Kansas Colored Infantry. A larger image of the flag is here at the site for the Kansas Historical Society.
The First Kansas Colored Infantry is one of the most historically significant regiments in the war, although it is less well known than the 54th Massachusetts (depicted in the movie Glory) or perhaps the Louisiana Native Guard/Corps D’Afrique.
At the start of the Civil War, the Union government did not use blacks as soldiers, for various legal and political reasons (see a discussion of these reasons here and here). But that wasn’t a show-stopper for the people of Kansas and its U.S. Senator, James Lane.
Kansas began the recruitment of blacks into the state militia force during the summer of 1862. Some of these black men were fugitive slaves from next-door Missouri (Lane and others are reported to have gone on slave raiding parties into that state); several hundred were from Kansas’s Indian Home Guard. Whatever the source, the result was the formation of the First Kansas Colored Infantry, the first African American regiment raised in the Northern states. Although the 1st Kansas was not formally accepted into the federal army until January 13, 1863, the First Kansas Colored was among the first African American regiments to see fighting.
The Kansas Historical Society notes that
Five months passed before the First was accepted into federal service, but this did not deter them from training or seeing action. On October 28, 1862, a detachment of 225 men faced 500 Confederates at Island Mound in Bates County, Missouri. Ten members of the First were killed and twelve wounded, but the Confederates were driven off.
The First distinguished itself throughout the Civil War. Most prominent were two battles in the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) in July 1863. At Cabin Creek on July 2, blacks fought alongside whites for the first time in turning back Confederate troops. Fifteen days later, on July 17, at Honey Springs, the First had perhaps its best day of the war, holding the federal center against attack. This action effectively ended any doubts west of the Mississippi about the abilities of black soldiers. Major General James Blunt would later remark, “I never saw such fighting as was done by that Negro regiment . . . . they make better soldiers in every respect than any troops I have ever had under my command.”
The worst day in the First’s Civil War record came on April 18, 1864, at Poison Springs, Arkansas, where 117 died and 65 were wounded. The death toll was aggravated by the Confederates’ execution of captured and wounded men left on the field. For black soldiers in the west, “Remember Poison Springs!” was a battle cry for the remainder of the war.
The preserved regimental flag of the First Kansas Colored Infantry documents the unit’s gallantry. Recorded on it are the battle honors of Island Mound, Cabin Creek, Honey Springs, and Poison Springs, as well as the battles of Sherwood, Prairie Deanne, Jenkins Ferry, and Camden.
The First Kansas Colored Infantry was organized into the USCT as the 79th Regiment Infantry (New), on December 13, 1864.
Several memorials have been erected in honor of the First Kansas, which underscores their importance:
• First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Memorial in Bates County, Missouri
• Memorial at the Fort Scott National Cemetery, Kansas.
• Memorial to the First Kansas Colored on the Honey Springs Battlefield
• Memorial at the Cabin Creek Battlefield near Pensacola, Oklahoma.
View all of the USCT flags on this cite to date by going here.