October 29 This day during the American Civil War

October 29, 1862 – The Skirmish at Island Mound was a skirmish of the American Civil War, occurring on October 29, 1862, in Bates County, Missouri. This Union victory was notable as the first known engagement of an African-American regiment during the Civil War. Even before the Emancipation Proclamation, Captain (soon to be Colonel) James M. Williams had been forming a regiment in Kansas of former slaves from Missouri and Arkansas. In August 1862, these men were mustered into Kansas service as the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers. The United States was not ready to accept black troops, so they were not mustered into United States service until January 13, 1863. Despite the uncertainty of their future as a federal military force, Kansas ensured the men were armed with a mix of good Austrian and Prussian muskets with bayonets. Captain Richard G. Ward’s 170-man battalion and Captain Henry C. Seaman’s 70-man battalion were ordered by Maj. B.S. Henning to proceed to Bates County, Missouri. They were accompanied by members of the 5th Kansas Cavalry serving as scouts. The objective was to break up a guerrilla army near the Toothman homestead, about nine miles on the other side of the Kansas-Missouri border. John Toothman had been identified as a guerrilla and imprisoned at Fort Lincoln, a Civil War prison camp near Fulton, Kansas. As the Kansans approached on Monday, October 27, the scouts identified a large party ahead as local Confederate guerrillas under Bill Truman and Dick Hancock, as well as Missouri State Guard recruits under Colonel Jeremiah “Vard” Cockrell (all mounted.) The guerrillas and recruits had been using nearby Hog Island (also known as Osage Island) as a base of operations. Finding the enemy in greater force than anticipated, the Kansans fortified the Toothman homestead and used fence rails to create breastworks. The soldiers dubbed the works, “Fort Africa.” Tuesday passed with occasional skirmishing. The superior range of the Austrian muskets kept the guerrilla cavalry, with lesser arms, at bay. By Wednesday, October 29, the Kansans’ rations were running low. Runners had been sent back to Kansas requesting assistance. A foraging party was dispatched while skirmishers pushed forward to create a diversion. When the foragers returned, the men ate. While the Kansans ate, the guerrillas set a prairie fire south of the camp, driving in the skirmishers. Seaman responded by back burning to prevent the fire from reaching the camp. He sent out a scouting party, consisting of the Cherokee, John Six-Killer, and his slaves, who had enlisted with him. The party was to move beyond the edge of the fire, but remain in sight of the camp. Instead, they were drawn into skirmishing and advanced out of sight. A party under Lieutenant Joseph Gardner (soon accompanied by several other officers) was dispatched to their aid and to recall them. This group also soon became engaged out of sight. Captain Ward was dispatched to their aid and could soon see the others engaged far from camp in the river bottoms. He called for the rest of the command to be brought up. In response Seaman sent his force forward on the flanks in support. The mounted guerrillas appeared in force, moving to a point between Gardner and Ward. Gardner’s men attempted to make it back to camp. When they could not, they formed a line and fired a volley into the charging cavalry. A general melee ensued, in which most of the Kansans losses occurred. Southern cavalry who swept past Gardner found themselves hemmed in by volleys from the rest of the approaching Kansans. Gardner’s detachment moved toward the advancing line, and the guerrillas were forced to withdraw. Union casualties were 8 killed (1 white officer, 6 black 1 Cherokee) and 11 men wounded. Among the dead were John Six-Killer and Captain A.G. Crew. Guerrilla losses are unknown, although some Kansans claimed up to 40 killed.

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