In honor of February as Black History Month and the history of Fort Scott National Historic Site, the fort hosted a luncheon Friday that featured a presentation and book-signing with author Dr. Ian Michael Spurgeon, who wrote a book on the First Kansas Colored Infantry.
The book—Soldiers in the Army of Freedom: The First Kansas Colored, The Civil War’s First African American Combat Unit—is believed to be the only book written on a black regiment from the Civil War, which Spurgeon said is likely because of the difficulty in getting information on the topic.
Spurgeon said his research on the regiment, which was mustered into the service at Fort Scott, began with a visit to the historic site in the fall of 2007 and then continued for seven years, including research such as looking at the soldiers’ pension applications for details on their lives since few had written accounts of their lives since only about five percent were literate.
“This is a story about men,” Spurgeon told his audience, saying he did not want his book to just be about the battles they fought, but their personal lives and how they became soldiers fighting for the Union.
Spurgeon said certain Civil War movies and other commonly accepted information claims that the 54th Massachusetts Infantry was the first black regiment, formed in 1863, but the First Kansas Coloreds came together in August of 1862, before such regiments had been officially approved by the government.
Most of the soldiers were former slaves who had fled to Kansas, with Spurgeon giving account of individuals who escaped after one or numerous attempts, many without their own possessions or even their own surnames.
Because of their identity as well as their location in Kansas, considered the edge of the United States and bordered by Confederate states and Indian Territory, the First Kansas Colored Infantry has rarely been heard of despite the action they saw and high losses they faced.
“The First Kansas Colored is such an amazing history,” Spurgeon said. “The hope of my book…is to really carry on the legacy of the First Kansas Colored.”
Copies of Spurgeon’s book can be found at the historic site’s visitor center.