Friday, January 21, 2011

Valiant service of First Kansas Colored Volunteers recognized

Screenshot of Sons of the South: Slavery Pictures
Contention over enlisting slaves

Senator and General James H. Lane liberated and armed slaves long before the public and the Federal government thought it was feasible.

"The prejudice against the negro made even the most advanced philanthropist hesitate in such a policy, under the fear that the negro, like the Indian, would perpetrate barbarities in revenge for their hardships as slaves that would arouse the enmity of the civilized world against our country, and it was for that reason that Lane's policy was not to stand up in the Senate and advocate unconditional enlistment; and only when pressed by Pro-Slavery men did he break out in his real sentiments, bringing cheers from the galleries." See page 261, "Life of Gen. James H. Lane," by John Reed.

For this reason, Lane was not able to disclose his true desires to enlist former slaves, however, it is without question that he sought advance his ideals in Senate debate:

"I say to the gentleman from Iowa, that I wished to be understood, that the Government of the United States was not committed in this joint resolution to the policy of arming the slaves. Permit me here to say, however, and I wish it distinctly understood, that if I had the command of that army, while I would not commit the Government to the policy, I would say to every slave: "I have not arms for you; but if it is in your power to obtain arms from rebels, I will use you as soldiers against traitors."  See page 261, "Life of Gen. James H. Lane," by John Reed.
Permission from Lincoln himself

According to biographer, John Reed, six months after the above debate:

"...I was walking down Pennsylvania avenue, in Washington, with Lane, he told me that he had just received authority to organize three regiments of white and two of colored soldiers in Kansas; and when I asked in
amazement to see the order to enlist the colored troops, he informed me that it was a Verbal promise from the President that he would see that they were clothed and subsisted until such time as they could be brought into line armed and equipped for battle; and on August 4, 1862, he opened a recruiting office in Leavenworth for both white and colored troops. 

He stumped the entire State, appealing to the patriotism of the people, in a campaign of unparalleled energy and power; and in less than six weeks he had the Eleventh, Twelfth and Thirteenth Kansas regiments organized, and a nucleus for the First and Second Colored infantry, the First Colored Battery thrown in for good count, and all completed before the ides of October. He appointed all the officers, under the authority of the President—no recognition being given to the Kansas State Government. I am not explaining. I am only attesting a fact. Abraham Lincoln did it."  See pgs. 261 262,  "Life of Gen. James H. Lane," by John Reed.
Distinguished service recognized

The First Kansas Colored Volunteers,  made up largely of slaves from Arkansas and Missouri, became an official regiment on January 13, 1863.  It was later renamed the 79th Colored Infantry.   The following is an excerpt from the Committee on Military Affairs, page 71 of "Congressional serial set, Issue 2709", from May 15, 1890,  and it describes the valiant service of Lt Colonel James M. Williams and the First Kansas Colored Volunteers:

"The Committee on Military Affairs, to whom was referred the bill (S. 1037) authorizing the placing of the name of James M. Williams upon the retired list of the U. S. Army, with the rank of captain of cavalry, have examined the same and report:
The army record of James M. Williams, late captain of the Eighth Cavalry, shows that he entered the volunteer service in July, 1861, as captain of the Fifth Kansas Cavalry, and served therewith until September, 1862, when he accepted an appointment as lieutenant-colonel of the First Kansas Colored Volunteers—afterwards the Seventy ninth United States Colored Troops; that he was promoted to be colonel of that regiment and served therewith until May, 1864, when he took command of a brigade, retaining such command until near his muster out in October, 1865.
His record in the volunteer service was exceptionally good. He was among the first to approve the policy of utilizing the colored men as troops on the Union side and giving them the opportunity, by displays of courage and self-control, to demonstrate their fitness for the freedom that awaited them and the higher duties of citizenship with which they were to be invested. He enlisted, equipped, and mustered into service the First Kansas Colored Volunteers, which afterwards became distinguished as the Seventy-ninth United States Colored Troops. While in command of this colored regiment it participated in engagements at Cabin Creek in June, 1863, at Honey Springs in July, 1863, and at Poison Springs April, 1864, in which last action 40 per cent, of the men engaged were killed and wounded, and 22 per cent, were left dead on the field. Of an action at Elk Creek, C. N., in which the regiment was engaged July 17,1863, General Blunt, in his official report thus speaks.
Mush credit is due to all of them for their gallantry. The First Kansas Colored particularly distinguished it-self; they fought like veterans, and preserved their line unbroken throughout the engagement. Their coolness and bravery I have never seen surpassed; they were in the hottest of the fight, and opposed to Texas troops twice their number, whom they completely routed. One Texas regiment (the Twentieth Cavalry) that fought against them went into the fight with 300 men and came out with only 60. It would be invidious to make particular mention of any where all did their duty so well.
General McNeil, on assuming command of Fort Smith, Ark., November 2, 1863, bears the following testimony to the thoroughness of the drill and discipline of this regiment:
On Saturday I reviewed the First Arkansas Infantry Volunteers, First Colored Infantry Kansas Volunteers, and Rabbi's Battery. The negro regiment is a triumph of drill and discipline and reflects great honor on Colonel Williams, in command. Few volunteer regiments that I have seen make a better appearance. I regard them as firsts rate infantry."

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