Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Sesquicentennial Year: Battles Involving US Colored Troops in Arkansas 1864

Soldiers of the 57th US Colored Infantry at a Reunion after the War.

In 1864 a large number of regiments were organized throughout the country, including Arkansas. Six regiments were organized within Arkansas, but other regiments organized in other states would find themselves fighting for freedom within the state.

This year, marks the 150th anniversary of many of the battles and skirmishes in which Arkansas black soldiers fought, and in honor of their efforts they are listed here.

There were 11 different regiments that fought in battles on Arkansas soil during the year 1864. Two of the regiments were originally organized as the 1st and 2nd Kansas Colored Infantries. They would be among the first Black Union soldiers to engage the enemy in battle as early as 1862. In late 1863 they were re-designated as the 79th and 83rd US Colored Infantries. The Kansas Colored fought in Island Mound Illionois a year before the US Colored Troops were established.  

Several of the Arkansas battles that involved Black soldiers were truly noteworthy such as Poison Springs, in which many wounded black men were massacred by Confederate soldiers after they lay wounded on the ground. As the Confederate Army was committed to giving "no Negro any quarters" and after the vicious massacre of the injured men occurred, Poison Springs would later become the battle cry of Arkansas black soldiers. 

It should be noted that within one week's time---two major massacres of Black soldiers occurred in the Civil War. The infamous Ft. Pillow massacre occurred in Tennessee on April 12th of 1864. In that case after being outnumbered and surrendering---confederate soldiers chose not to see the humanity of the black soldiers and brutally killed hundreds who had surrendered. Historian Richard Fuchs described the outrage at Ft. Pillow, “The affair at Fort Pillow was simply an orgy of death, a mass lynching to satisfy the basest of conduct – intentional murder – for the vilest of reasons – racism and personal enmity." (1)

A mere six days later in Arkansas--the same thing occurred. This time, many of the men were already injured and lying on the ground. And they to were cruelly and maliciously massacred by the confederate army devoted to never recognizing their humanity. It was also reported that many of the Black Union soldiers were murdered even after the major fighting was over. The outrage at Poison Springs, indeed became a logical battle cry from that time onward for those once enslaved, "Remember Poison Springs!"

So, in this sesquicentennial year, the seriousness of purpose of the US Colored Troops is noted and those who fought and who died upon Arkansas soil are honored. May their efforts be always remembered and may the courage and the stories of these men once enslaved, and now daring to face the enemy, be told.

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(1) Richard Fuchs, An Unerring Fire: The Massacre At Fort Pillow (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole, 2002), 14.

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