Main statue for the Soldiers’ Memorial at Lincoln University, Missouri
Source: Lincoln University, Missouri
Deprived of freedom and citizenship rights, thousands of black men from Missouri joined the Union army, determined to fight for emancipation and equality. Deprived of an education, the Missouri men of the 62nd and 65th United States Colored Infantry took another determined, but unprecedented action: in 1866, they pooled their money to fund the first and only school established by soldiers of African descent.
Liberty and learning were indeed precious commodities for Missouri African Americans at the start of the Civil War. In 1860, 118,500 blacks lived in the state, with 115,000 in slavery, and just 3,500 free. In 1847 the Missouri General Assembly passed a law forbidding blacks, slave or free, to be taught to read or write. As noted in the book Missouri’s Black Heritage, “this was a reflection of a slaveholder’s fear that literacy might lead to (a slave) rebellion.” This “Black Code” prohibition taught Missouri blacks a lesson they would not forget: education was a force for their liberation and uplift.
The legacy institution of the 62nd and 65th United States Colored Infantry (USCI) – which is now called Lincoln University – commemorates those men in a monument that sits on the University’s campus. What follows is a brief summary of how this came to be.
Missouri African Americans and the Civil War
When the Civil War began, Missouri was a slave state that remained loyal to the Union. (Although it’s more correct to say that the state had large pro-Union and pro-seccession/Confederate factions, with the Union faction and military able to maintain control of the state government.) In order to keep the support of Missouri and other Border slave states (Delaware, Kentucky, and Maryland), the United States government initially declared that it would not disturb slavery where it stood. Of note: in August 1861, the abolitionist Union General John C. Frémont, as part of his martial law policy to defend the state, declared that bondsmen of disloyal slave-owners in Missouri were free. In September 1861, President Abraham Lincoln told Frémont to rescind the order, saying it lacked congressional and executive authorization.
But as the war wore on, military necessity determined that the Union would accept, and even seek, the support of African Americans, even in states with loyal slaveholders like Missouri. By 1864, Union enlistment and recruitment was expanded to include slaves in the Border states; army enlistment automatically freed the former slaves. As noted by Aaron Astor in his essay Black Soldiers and White Violence in Kentucky and Missouri (from the book The Great Task Remaining Before Us: Reconstruction as America’s Continuing Civil War),
By January 15, 1864, dozens of slaves enlisted in central Missouri’s slave-rich Howard County alone. By the end of February, more than 3,700 African Americans enlisted in Missouri, with central Missouri’s Little Dixie producing a significant portion… in Missouri, 39 percent (of military-age African Americans) joined the Union army… these numbers downplay the total of black recruits in the western border states, as many joined in neighboring free states. It is very likely that a significant percentage of the 2,080 African Americans credited to Kansas actually came from Missouri. (Editor’s note: Kansas had less than 700 African American residents in 1860, according to the US Census.)
In the rolls of the United States Colored Troops, Missouri is credited with providing 8,344 soldiers. As mentioned earlier, it’s very likely that many Missouri blacks enlisted in nearby Kansas, and some were probably members of the famous First Kansas Colored Infantry.
According to the site Missouri Digital Heritage, “the first black regiment from Missouri was recruited in June 1863 at Schofield Barracks in St. Louis. More than 300 men enlisted. The regiment was called the First Regiment of Missouri Colored Infantry. It later became the 62nd U.S. Regiment of Colored Infantry.” Sometime after, the 2nd Missouri Colored Infantry was formed; it was renamed the 65th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry. Other black Missouri regiments are noted in this post at The USCT Chronicle.
The History of Lincoln University, née Lincoln Institute
After the war, soldiers from the 62nd and 65th USCI raised over $5000 to found a school for Missouri’s freedmen. Established in 1866, the school was called Lincoln Institute. A key figure in the creation of the school was Richard Baxter Foster, an abolitionist white officer who became the Institute’s first principal, and whose image is featured in the Soldiers’ Memorial Monument. The history of the school, and the efforts to create a monument to the soldiers who founded it, is told in this video: