BUTLER, Mo. (AP) — Black soldiers who fought an important Civil War battle will be formally honored Saturday when the state dedicates a new park south of Kansas City in a pasture where the soldiers set up headquarters not long after being freed from slavery.
The 40-acre park in Bates County was the headquarters for the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry, which fought what became known as the Battle of Island Mound on Oct. 27, 1862. It was the first time former slaves and freed men defeated Confederate soldiers, The Kansas City Star reported (http://bit.ly/Smxgy2 ).
The battle began when a group of soldiers on a foraging expedition from Fort Africa crossed over a low hill called Island Mound and encountered Confederate forces. After a fierce fight, eight members of the unit were killed, including one white officer and one Cherokee. The six black soldiers and the Native American were buried in the field. Eleven other men were wounded.
It's not known how many Confederate soldiers were killed but historians believe it was as many as 40.
The Union victory was significant for black soldiers across the country, said Chris Tabor, who wrote "Skirmish at Island Mound," in 2001.
"These men — some of them weeks out of bondage, others just days out of bondage — proved that former slaves could meet their enemy on the field of battle and defeat them," said Tabor, who will discuss his research at Saturday's dedication.
After President Lincoln heard about the battle, "it affected his decision to officially muster black soldiers into the war. It affected his decision to sign the Emancipation Proclamation," Tabor said.
So far, state-funded archaeological digs have not discovered the soldiers' remains in the field 70 miles south of Kansas City. Local historians used land documents and a military report from by Maj. Richard Ward, an officer of the First Kansas Colored, to confirm the battle site.
"We haven't done a comprehensive survey of the property yet," said Bill Bryan, director of Missouri State Parks. "This was a running battle; we very well may find other artifacts in the future."
The state bought 40 acres of the old 80-acre farm in 2008. Since then, an archaeological workshop was held and prairie grass was planted. This year, park workers installed benches, built a shelter and wrapped a half-mile walking trail around the site.
"I think this is very important to African-Americans in Kansas City, in the region and throughout the country," said Joe Maddox, who manages the historical items at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Center.
"The First Kansas Colored soldiers were the first to fight and the first to die on the battlefield at a time when most Northern generals thought black men could not be trained as soldiers," Maddox said.