Magazine article Army

African-American Unit Defied Stereotypes

Magazine article Army

African-American Unit Defied Stereotypes

Article excerpt

African-American Unit Defied Stereotypes Soldiers in the Army of Freedom: The 1st Kansas Colored, the Civil War's First African American Combat Unit. Ian Michael Spurgeon. University of Oklahoma Press. 454 pages. $29.95.

The sight of armed African-American soldiers wearing blue uniforms was disturbing for some at the outset of the Civil War. For the Southerners in gray, it was more than just disturbing; it was a threat to the Southern way of life.

Soldiers in the Army of Freedom, by Ian Michael Spurgeon, is an inspiring account of one of the many black units that wore blue uniforms during the Civil War: the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry Regiment. This largely forgotten regiment played an important role in the Union victory in the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the Civil War.

The 1st Kansas Colored Infantry Regiment has the distinction of being the first black regiment raised in a Northern state, and the first black unit to see combat during the Civil War. Its battles were small when compared to the fighting in the East, but it was bloody combat nonetheless.

The War Department mustered the regiment into federal service in January 1863. It was the fourth black regiment to be accepted into the Union Army. William D. Matthews, a free black man in Kansas in 1862, helped raise a company of volunteers for the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry and became one of the regiment's two black officers. The War Department also authorized Matthews' commission, which would have made him the first black officer in the U. …

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