First to Serve
First Kansas (Colored) Volunteer Infantry Regiment
During the Civil War, Kansas was the first state to officially recruit and train military units comprised of black soldiers. Between July 1862 and October 1863, the 1st and 2nd Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiments were recruited in eastern Kansas and mustered into the Union Army at Fort Scott. They compiled a proud campaign record in Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and the Indian Territory.
Kansas Senator (General) James H. Lane pioneered the recruitment of black soldiers in the Midwest. Most of the soldiers of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment were from Fort Scott, Leavenworth, Mound City, Wyandotte, and Lawrence, Kansas.
The Fort Scott Bulletin reported:
July 26, 1862
"An effort is being made in Leavenworth to raise a regiment of negroes. There are contrabands enough in Fort Scott to fill up two companies..."
August 16, 1862
"Colored Regiments--Gen. Lane is still going on with the work of organizing two Colored Regiments, notwithstanding the refusal of the President to accept black soldiers. Last Tuesday about fifty recruits were raised here..."
The 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment was mustered into the United States Army on January 13, 1863, at Fort Scott, Kansas. It was the fifth black regiment to enter the Union Army. Colonel James M. Williams, who had helped recruit the regiment, became the commanding officer. Throughout the Civil War, white officers normally commanded black regiments. However, a few black soldiers eventually earned the rank of officer and many others were promoted to non-commissioned officers (corporals and sergeants.) On December 13, 1864, during a general reorganization of the black regiments the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry became the 79th United States Colored Troops (USCT) and the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry was designated the 83rd United States Colored Troops.
The 1st Kansas Colored Infantry Regiment achieved an excellent combat record during the Civil War, and it also performed garrison, engineer, and escort duty. The Regiment saw action at:
Union officers recognized the excellent combat reputation of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment:
Major General James G. Blunt--July 26, 1863:
Lt. Colonel John Bowles--July 20, 1863:
Brigadier General John McNeil--November 2, 1863:
Colonel James M. Williams--April 24, 1864:
The 1st Kansas Colored Regiment, mustered out in October 1865, incurred the most casualties of any Kansas Regiment. Five officers and 173 enlisted soldiers were killed in action and one officer and 165 enlisted soldiers died from disease.
Did You Know?
Captain Thomas Swords, the quartermaster in charge of building Fort Scott, said that the other officers were of no assistance in planning and designing the fort and that "none of them can draw a straight line even with the assistance of a ruler".