It was 1862, the second year of the Civil War, though Kansans and Missourians had been fighting over slavery for almost a decade. For the 250 Union soldiers facing down rebel irregulars on Enoch Toothman’s farm near Butler, Missouri, this was no battle over abstract principles. These were men of the First Kansas Colored Infantry, and they were fighting for their own freedom and that of their families. They belonged to the first black regiment raised in a northern state, and the first black unit to see combat during the Civil War. Soldiers in the Army of Freedom is the first published account of this largely forgotten regiment and, in particular, its contribution to Union victory in the trans-Mississippi theater of the Civil War. As such, it restores the First Kansas Colored Infantry to its rightful place in American history.
Composed primarily of former slaves, the First Kansas Colored saw major combat in Missouri, Indian Territory, and Arkansas. Ian Michael Spurgeon draws upon a wealth of little-known sources—including soldiers’ pension applications—to chart the intersection of race and military service, and to reveal the regiment’s role in countering white prejudices by defying stereotypes. Despite naysayers’ bigoted predictions—and a merciless slaughter at the Battle of Poison Spring—these black soldiers proved themselves as capable as their white counterparts, and so helped shape the evolving attitudes of leading politicians, such as Kansas senator James Henry Lane and President Abraham Lincoln. A long-overdue reconstruction of the regiment’s remarkable combat record, Spurgeon’s book brings to life the men of the First Kansas Colored Infantry in their doubly desperate battle against the Confederate forces and skepticism within Union ranks.
Ian Michael Spurgeon’s Soldiers in the Army of Freedom is a sparkling and most welcome addition to the growing list of works on African Americans in the age of emancipation. He rescues from relative oblivion the First Kansas Colored Infantry, the first black regiment organized in a northern state, the fourth black regiment to be mustered into federal service, and the first such unit to enter combat in the Civil War. Fair, balanced, and realistic in his assessment of the men of the First Kansas Colored, Spurgeon underscores the black troops’ humanity, their dedicated service, and their determination to prove their manhood in the crucible of slavery’s demise.—John David Smith, author of Lincoln and the U.S. Colored Troops
This thoroughly researched and well-written book recounts the previously little-known story of the first black Civil War regiment recruited in the North and the first to see combat. The First Kansas Colored Infantry suffered more battle deaths than any other black regiment and was the victim of one of the worst Confederate atrocities, the murder of the regiment’s wounded and captured men after the battle of Poison Springs. This important study sheds new light on the Civil War in Missouri, Arkansas, and Indian Territory.—James M. McPherson, author of and Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era