Skirmish at Island Mound

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Skirmish at Island Mound
Part of the American Civil War
Battle of Island Mound.jpg
A woodcut depicting the battle published in Harper's Weekly in 1863
Date October 29, 1862 (1862-10-29)
Location Bates County, Missouri
Result Union victory
Belligerents
United States United States of America Confederate States of America Confederacy (CSA)
Commanders and leaders
Richard G. Ward
Henry C. Seaman
Jeremiah V. Cockrell
Dick Hancock
Bill Truman
Units involved
1st Kansas Colored Volunteers Missouri State Guard
Strength
250 ~350
Casualties and losses
8 killed
11 wounded
unknown

The Skirmish at Island Mound was a skirmish of the American Civil War, occurring on October 29, 1862, in Bates County, Missouri. This Union victory was notable as the first known engagement of an African-American regiment during the Civil War.

Background[edit]

Even before the Emancipation Proclamation, Captain (soon to be Colonel) James M. Williams had been forming a regiment in Kansas of former slaves from Missouri and Arkansas. In August 1862, these men were mustered into Kansas service as the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers.[1] The United States was not ready to accept black troops, so they were not mustered into United States service until January 13, 1863.[2] Despite the uncertainty of their future as a federal military force, Kansas ensured the men were armed with a mix of good Austrian and Prussian muskets with bayonets.[3]

Captain Richard G. Ward's 170-man battalion and Captain Henry C. Seaman's 70-man battalion were ordered by Maj. B.S. Henning to proceed to Bates County, Missouri. They were accompanied by members of the 5th Kansas Cavalry serving as scouts. The objective was to break up a guerrilla army near the Toothman homestead, about nine miles on the other side of the Kansas-Missouri border. John Toothman had been identified as a guerrilla and imprisoned at Fort Lincoln, a Civil War prison camp near Fulton, Kansas.

As the Kansans approached on Monday, October 27, the scouts identified a large party ahead as local Confederate guerrillas under Bill Truman and Dick Hancock, as well as Missouri State Guard recruits under Colonel Jeremiah “Vard” Cockrell (all mounted.) The guerrillas and recruits had been using nearby Hog Island (also known as Osage Island) as a base of operations.[4]

Siege and Engagement[edit]

Map of early African American involvement in the Civil War, including the Skirmish at Island Mound

Finding the enemy in greater force than anticipated, the Kansans fortified the Toothman homestead and used fence rails to create breastworks. The soldiers dubbed the works, “Fort Africa.” Tuesday passed with occasional skirmishing. The superior range of the Austrian muskets kept the guerrilla cavalry, with lesser arms, at bay.[5]

By Wednesday, October 29, the Kansans’ rations were running low. Runners had been sent back to Kansas requesting assistance. A foraging party was dispatched while skirmishers pushed forward to create a diversion. When the foragers returned, the men ate.

While the Kansans ate, the guerrillas set a prairie fire south of the camp, driving in the skirmishers. Seaman responded by back burning to prevent the fire from reaching the camp. He sent out a scouting party, consisting of the Cherokee, John Six-Killer, and his slaves, who had enlisted with him. The party was to move beyond the edge of the fire, but remain in sight of the camp. Instead, they were drawn into skirmishing and advanced out of sight. A party under Lieutenant Joseph Gardner (soon accompanied by several other officers) was dispatched to their aid and to recall them. This group also soon became engaged out of sight.[6]

Captain Ward was dispatched to their aid and could soon see the others engaged far from camp in the river bottoms. He called for the rest of the command to be brought up. In response Seaman sent his force forward on the flanks in support.[7]

The mounted guerrillas appeared in force, moving to a point between Gardner and Ward. Gardner's men attempted to make it back to camp. When they could not, they formed a line and fired a volley into the charging cavalry. A general melee ensued, in which most of the Kansans losses occurred. Southern cavalry who swept past Gardner found themselves hemmed in by volleys from the rest of the approaching Kansans. Gardner's detachment moved toward the advancing line, and the guerrillas were forced to withdraw.[8]

Casualties and significance[edit]

Union casualties were 8 killed (1 white officer, 6 black 1 Cherokee) and 11 men wounded. Among the dead were John Six-Killer and Captain A.G. Crew.[9] Guerrilla losses are unknown, although some Kansans claimed up to 40 killed.[10]

The action was reported in the New York Times.[11] On December 13, 1864, the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers were redesignated the 79th United States Colored Troops.[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Chris Tabor, "Skirmish at Island Mound", Island Mound, accessed 12 Oct 2009
  2. ^ Dyer, Frederick H., A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, Part 3, page 1186
  3. ^ Moore, Frank, The Rebellion Record, Volume Six, G.P. Putnam 1863, pages 52-54
  4. ^ The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Volume 53, pages 455-459
  5. ^ Chris Tabor, "The Skirmish at Island Mound", description of battle and interactive map
  6. ^ Chris Tabor, "The Skirmish at Island Mound", description of battle and interactive map
  7. ^ Chris Tabor, "The Skirmish at Island Mound", description of battle and interactive map
  8. ^ Chris Tabor, "The Skirmish at Island Mound", description of battle and interactive map
  9. ^ , Chris Tabor, "Skirmish at Island Mound", Island Mound, accessed 11 Oct 2009
  10. ^ "First Kansas Colored Infantry", Linn County Republican, January 31, 1902, J.H. Stearns (5th Kansas Cavalry)
  11. ^ Moore, Frank The Rebellion Record, Volume Six, G.P. Putnam 1863, pages 52-54
  12. ^ Dyer, Frederick H., A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, Part 3, page 1186

External links[edit]

  • [1] "The Skirmish at Island Mound" by Chris Tabor
  • [2] Animated battle map with sound.


Coordinates: 38°16′N 94°20′W / 38.26°N 94.34°W / 38.26; -94.34