Battlefield Dispatches #4
Ebony Warriors “Freedom fighters”
During the past 30 years the role of the African–American Soldier in the Civil War has finally been recognized, studied and published in various books and magazine articles. Approximately 187,000 Black soldiers served in the Volunteer Forces of the Union Army and an additional 20,000 served in the United States Navy. However, there is very little information on and recognition of the Black Militia Soldiers who responded to an immediate crisis like the “Minute Men of the American Revolution.” In Kansas a number of Black Militia Companies were organized to assist in defending the state from the Confederate invasion, commanded by Major General Sterling Price, in October of 1864. Two of these companies were from Linn & Bourbon County.
Company “E” (Colored) of the 1st Battalion, Irregular Kansas State Militia was organized at Mound City, Kansas on October 15, 1864. It was commanded by Capt. H. C. Seaman (white) and consisted of the following individuals who were defending their freedom and homes in and around Mound City: 1st Lieut. Miles Rainwater, 1st Sgt. Gilbert Van, 2nd Sgt. Lewis Martin, 3rd Sgt. London Martin, 1st Corp. Benjamin Parks, 2nd Corp. Austin Bell, 3rd Corp. Andrew Tutt, Privates Steven Ridge, Henry Fristo, George drew, Willis Johnson, Joseph Van, Andrew Lawrence, Joseph Willingham, William Russell, David Van, Lewis May, Bunos Porter, John Bell, Spencer Reed, Charles Lawrence, Moses Daniel, Harrison McDowell, Charles Pea, James Mills, Green Logan, Samuel Lindsey, Randal Wagoner, James Kid, Zacharus Lindsey, Payton Martin, Elijah Rodman, Andrew Kates, Harry Rogers, Esari Whitfield, George Allen Garr, Moses Symonds, Rodford Simpson, David Hare, Robert Martin, Josiah Cook, William Allen, Thoams Brown, Edmund Walker and Green Russell. This company was part of the Union garrison which successfully defended Mound City and defeated the attacking Confederates early in the morning of October 25, 1864 before the Battle of Mine Creek. I would like to thank Ola Mae Ernest of the Linn County Historical Society for sharing this very rare roster of Company “E”.
On October 13, 1864; two days before Company “E” was organized in Mound City, the Commanding Officer at Fort Scott, Captain D. S. Vittum, issued the following order:
1st Lieutenant William D. Matthews of the Kansas Independent Light “Colored” Artillery Battery, Commdg. Colored Militia at this Post will enroll all able bodied Colored Men in Bourbon County and assemble them at this Post immediately.
William D. Matthews (Battle of Westport Museum)
Lieutenant Matthews was the “Black Officer” who organized and commanded the “Black” Militia Company that was stationed in the forward Rifle Pits (trenches) on the south bank of the Marmaton River at the base of “Red Hill” in Fort Scott. Unfortunately, the roster (list) of these soldiers has not been located, but the following “Commendation” was discovered Lieut. Matthews Military Service Record:
Headquarters Fort Scott, Kansas, November 18, 1864.
Lieut. W. D. Matthews, Colored Light Artillery, Fort Scott, Kansas. Sir: On leaving this post pursuant to order from the Department Headquarters, I desire to express to you my sincere thanks for the patient industry and skill with which you have discharged your various duties since I placed you on duty to assist in preparing the Post for a virgorous defense against the probable attack of the enemy. You have been a model of proper discipline and subordination, strictly attentive to duty, promptly obedient to orders and acting with a wise discretion in all matters requiring the exercise of you individual judgment. Trusting that you maybe successful in the service and in life, I am,
Very Respectfully Yours,
Charles W. Blair, Colonel, Commanding Post.
This was very unusual because during the Civil War, it was very rare for a “White Officer” (Colonel Blair) to complement a “Black Officer” with an “Official Commendation” in writing. After the crisis of Price’s Invasion had past, the “Minute Men” of these Black Militia Companies returned to their homes in or near Mound City or in Jerden’s Row in Fort Scott. After the Civil War was over, Lieutenant Matthews received an “Honorable Discharge” and returned to his home in Leavenworth, Kansas.
Charles W. Blair (Battle of Westport Museum)