The first engagement by African-American troops during the Civil War occurred on 29 th October 1862 at Island Mound in Missouri.
Captain James M Williams formed a regiment out of former slaves from Missouri and Arkansas in Kansas, even before President Lincoln declared the Emancipation Proclamation. In August 1862 these men became the First Kansas Colored Volunteers. They weren’t mustered into the US service until January 13th 1863, but were armed with Austrian and Prussian muskets.
On October 27th the 1st Kansas Colored were part of the force sent to Bates County,MO to break up a guerrilla force located near the homestead of John Toothman. Their scout located a large party of Confederate’s serving under Bill Truman and Dick Hancock, with the Missouri State Guard under Colonel Jeremiah “Vard” Cockrell. The Union finding a larger force than expected, fortified their position with fence rails, calling their location “Fort Africa”. The second day passed with both sides sending out skirmishers.
By the 29th the Union troops were running low on ration. Skirmishers were sent out to create a diversion, so that a party could out and forage. While the Kansas men were eating the foraged food, the Rebels set a fire to the south of camp. The Union men set a back fire to keep the original fire form reaching camp. The Union forces sent out John Six-Killer a Cherokee scout and his slaves that had enlisted with him. They were to move just beyond the fire, remaining in sight of camp. They were drawn out into a skirmish and advanced out of sight. A second party under Lieutenant Joseph Gardner were dispatched to Six-Killer’s aid, but soon were also engaged out of sight. The Battle continued to grow in size. Union casualties were eight killed [1 white officer, 6 blacks, and the Cherokee John Six-Killer], and eleven wounded. The Rebels lost about 30 men. The 1st Kansans Colored Volunteer would become the 79th US Colored Troops on December 13th 1864.