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Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 299: 'First to serve'

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Today, Friday, Jan. 13, 2012, is the 150th Anniversary of one of many first in the Civil War, and it is an important date in the history of the United States, African American history and the history of the United States Army.

It was here, in Fort Scott, Kan., on Jan. 13, 1863, that the "First" Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment was "mustered" into or became part of the "volunteer forces" of the United States Army. This regiment was the "first regiment" of African American soldiers from a "northern" state to join the "Union" Army during the Civil War.

The following article was written by a correspondent of the "Leavenworth Conservative" newspaper who witnessed this "mustering in," and his description of the event was published in the Jan. 17 edition of his newspaper.

"Muster of the colored regiment"

Speech of Maj. Weed

(Correspondence of the Conservative)

First Regiment Kansas Colored Vol. Inf.

Camp Henning, Fort Scott, Jan. 13, 1863

"Glory hallelujah" "or any other man," this regiment is mustered into the service of the United States as soldiers; mark that all you think that negroes are fit for nought (only) slaves. Today they stand the best drilled six companies of infantry ever raised in Kansas.

Maj. T.J. Weed, acting assistant adjutant general, was present, personally superintending the muster which was performed by Lt. Sabine, Co. F, 1st Infantry, U.S.A., the first regular officer who has ever mustered negroes, I believe, into the military service. He performed this duty with courtesy and alacrity and, in every sense of the term, treated men and officers as soldiers and gentlemen.

Owing to the large number of absentees (new recruits that had not arrived in Fort Scott) and the imperative character of the orders relative to muster, we were able to muster only six companies of 80 men each, all sound and fit for duty. We thus have 480 men. Within three weeks from the date of this muster, at least 400 absentees will be in camp and the 1st Kansas Colored will have 10 companies of full ranks. With the present organization we are entitled to a lieutenant colonel and major.

At the conclusion of the mustering, the companies were marched in front of Lt. Col. James M. Williams quarters and formed in a square. Maj. Weed was then introduced to the regiment. He addressed them substantially as follows:

Soldiers of the 1st Regiment Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry":

It is with the sincerest feelings of pleasure that I congratulate you upon the event just concluded -- your muster as soldiers into the service of the United States. By this act you are henceforth and forever free! I look upon this battalion mustered here today as the germ (beginning) of a new organization; that "first" regiment of your color ever formed in a free state. It will grow in strength until the new policy thus introduced shall revolutionize the war giving liberty to the bond (slaves) and restoring the "Union" to greater than its pristine glory.

Soldiers, you, I trust, will soon see the day when you will be the harbingers (messengers) of freedom to all men of your color in the land. You have borne the jeers and sneers of open enemies and false friends. In submitting too much, your triumph is greater!

Go on as you have so well commenced and you will be, as I hope and desire to see you, the model military organization of the war, in drill, discipline and efficiency. You are now recognized as soldiers in the army of freedom.

The victorious march of the great principles concerned are in your own hands. Continue to persevere in your well doing, and I am satisfied that such interests will be carefully maintained.

Before closing, let me urge upon you one thing --obey all orders coming from proper authority. This is the first duty and best attribute of a soldier. You are not to hesitate, because it may seem that the orders are wrong. Your duty is obedience; this responsibility lies elsewhere. Obedience is the fundamental idea of a soldiers' life. By simple obedience to it, you become better soldiers and honorable men.

Cheers were given for the adjutant general and the men were marched to the company streets and dispersed.

So closed the day. R.J.H."

The soldiers of the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry were pathfinders for approximately 180,000 African Americans who served in the "Union" Army during the Civil War. This regiment compiled a proud "combat record" from 1862 -- 1865 and suffered more casualties (killed and wounded) than any of the other Kansas regiments in the entire Civil War. Five officers and 173 enlisted soldiers were killed in action, and one officer and 165 enlisted soldiers died from disease; and, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches