The skirmish at Island Mound occurred on Oct. 29, 1862, in Bates County, Mo. Although the skirmish was a minor encounter, it has larger significance because it was the first combat action by African-American soldiers during the Civil War.
In August 1862, notorious Jayhawker, Jim Lane, began recruiting black soldiers, mostly former slaves from Missouri, into the army. Within a month, Lane formed seven companies of the First Kansas Colored Regiment.
On Oct. 27, 240 members of the First Kansas Colored marched into Bates County to clear out the guerrillas and Confederate recruiters that frequented the area. They commandeered the log home of local Southern sympathizer, Enoch Toothman, fortified the yard with fence rails and christened it “Fort Africa.”
On Oct. 29, a detachment of some 30 black troops were a mile or more from the protection of Fort Africa when approximately 130 Southern horsemen emerged from the trees bordering the Marias-des-Cygnes River and galloped straight toward them. On the southern slope of a low hill known as Island Mound, the two groups clashed in deadly hand-to-hand fighting.
Outnumbered six to one and facing a mounted foe, the black soldiers fought back ferociously, driving off the Southerners. The skirmish resulted in eight killed and 11 wounded for the First Kansas Colored regiment; Confederate losses were similar.
This minor action attracted nationwide attention that promoted acceptance of black soldiers and paved the way for additional African-American regiments. The performance of the black solders at Island Mound refuted widespread doubts that African-Americans would not fight. A guerrilla leader conceded later that “the black devils fought like tigers.” The Union eventually enlisted almost 200,000 black soldiers.