- Historic Sites
The First Kansas Colored
They were the first black men to fight in the Civil War. They were the first to serve alongside whites. And they were the first to die.
February/March 1992 | Volume 43, Issue 1
The 1st Kansas Colored were discharged at Fort Leavenworth in October 1865. The men disappeared into the anonymous ranks of civil society. Soldier Caesar Johnson, like many of the men from the regiment, settled in Leavenworth with his Indian wife, laying aside his rifle to shoulder loads as a hod carrier. He harbored no rancor toward whites, again apparently like the other men in the regiment, instead focusing on making a new life as a free man. The regimental historian closed his narrative by saying that “citizenship in a free country amply rewards the warworn soldier.”
The achievements the black soldiers had won with “well poised bayonets” languished, grew rusty, and were lost. Eighty years later American generals in World War II unanimously opposed using blacks in combat roles or integrating them with whites. Secretary of War Henry Stimson believed that “the Negro still lacks the particular initiative which a commanding officer of men needs in war…and the social intermixture of the two races is basically impossible.”
The men of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry themselves had spent their lives separate from white society. Complete social integration was virtually unimaginable, and they did not seek it. First, they had to prove that they too were men. But some of them probably felt in an inchoate way what a black journalist had written in July 1863, the same week that they and white men had gone into battle together for the first time ever: “White Americans remember!…we are well aware of the fact that…the avenue to honor and promotion is closed to us; but for these things we care not.…Promotion we will not ask, until we have earned it, and when we have, this nation shall know no rest until…the highway of advancement is open to the dusky sons of America, as well as those of paler hue.”