Rural Missouri - January 2015 - 26

Fighting for freedom
Slavery ends in Missouri as Civil War comes to a close

photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Comprised mostly of slaves escaped from Missouri, Company E of the 4th U.S. Colored Infantry was stationed
at Fort Lincoln, Kan., just across the Missouri-Kansas border. This photo was taken in 1863 or 1864.

by Jim Denny | info@ruralmissouri.coop

O

n Jan. 11, 1865, newly inaugurated Gov. Thomas C. Fletcher signed a proclamation formally
abolishing slavery in Missouri. This action took
place three weeks before the U.S. Congress finally
approved the 13th Amendment to end slavery. The move was remarkable considering that Missouri was born a slave state out of the Compromise of 1820.
Thirty-five years later, Missourians mounted a bloody and violent four-yearlong prequel to the Civil War to extend - by force if need be - the reach of
slavery into the Kansas Territory and beyond.
Most of Missouri's white residents were Southern, and the majority was
sympathetic to the institution of slavery, even if they didn't own slaves. At the
beginning of the Civil War, only 12.5 percent of the population owned Missouri's 114,931 slaves. Nonetheless, loyal slaveholders dominated the state's
provisional Unionist government. Lincoln vowed to protect slavery in the state,
and Missouri's bondsmen were excluded from the Emancipation Proclamation
issued on Jan. 1, 1863. But as the war's end neared, political power shifted to
the Radical Republicans, a faction within the party. The abolition of slavery was
high on their agenda.
Missouri's Conservative Unionist faction resisted emancipation to the bitter
end. At Gettysburg, Lincoln redefined the purpose for the Civil War from preservation of the Union to the creation of a "new birth of freedom." Missouri's
Conservative Unionists were not ready to climb aboard the emancipation bandwagon. When prodded by Lincoln to end slavery in Missouri, the conservative
provisional government resisted. Finally, on July 1, 1863, a strange measure
was passed that allowed for "gradual emancipation." Years or even decades of
"apprenticeship" would be required of many black people before they achieved
complete freedom.
The first Missourians to realize that Union victory would bring the extinction
of slavery were the slaves. By the time the foot-dragging state convention got
around to concocting its anemic emancipation scheme, thousands of slaves
had liberated themselves already.
Sometimes, slaves escaped on their own to the Free States that surrounded Missouri on three sides. Many were assisted to freedom by Free State soldiers who were stationed in Missouri. Often these soldiers would shelter fleeing
slaves in their camps, especially if their masters supported the Confederacy.
Kansas jayhawkers escorted thousands of black people to freedom.
Escape could be dangerous. Slave patrols watched constantly for runaways,
and as irregular warfare intensified, fleeing slaves could expect no mercy from
guerrillas. But as the war wore on, slaves exited in large numbers from farms
and plantations across the state.
In late August 1863, a Saline County woman in the heart of Little Dixie
witnessed an astonishing parade of humanity: "It was headed by 11, six-mule
teams drawing wagons filled with Negro women and children. Behind them was
a large procession of 240 Negro men, besides women and children. The procession of Negroes had an escort of soldiers carrying a flag."
The next major step along the road to freedom and citizenship was for Missouri slaves to be enlisted in the Federal army. The first Missouri black men to
sign up did so in Kansas. Hundreds of recently liberated slaves, mostly from
Missouri, volunteered for the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry Regiment.
On Oct. 29, 1862, a detachment of 27 black soldiers and three white officers
from the 1st Kansas was ambushed at Island Mound in Bates County. In this
first combat action of the Civil War for African Americans, the inexperienced

26

RURAL MISSOURI | JANUARY 2015

but brave Kansas soldiers engaged in a pitched battle and were overrun by 140
rebel and guerrilla horsemen. They fought "like tigers" in a desperate struggle
that left 63 percent of their number dead or wounded. The heroics of the black
combatants received nationwide notice. The old lie that black men lacked the
courage to fight and kill rebels was laid to rest. The 1st Kansas Colored suffered more combat casualties during the Civil War than any other regiment in
Kansas - white or black.
Black recruitment lagged in Missouri through most of 1863. Conservative
Unionists managed to convince Lincoln to delay the enrollment of black soldiers. Finally, with much urging by the state's increasingly powerful Radical
Republicans, muster rolls were at last opened to black men on Nov. 14, 1863.
Slaves flooded to enlistment centers. As February 1964 drew to a close, 3,700
slaves became soldiers and free men.
Ultimately, the 18th, 62nd, 67th and 68th regiments, United States Colored
Troops, were organized in Missouri. On Dec. 15-16, 1864, the 18th saw action
at the Battle of Nashville, Tenn., while the 68th participated in the assault and
capture of Fort Blakely, Ala., on April 7, 1865. Missouri black soldiers from the
62nd covered the retreat of Union troops at Palmito Ranch in Texas on May
12-13, 1865, in what is considered to be the last battle of the Civil War. The
last two men to die in that great conflict might well have been the two fatalities
sustained as the 62nd fired perhaps the war's final volley. Men of the 62nd and
65th later helped raise funds to erect a one-room schoolhouse in Jefferson City
that went on to become Lincoln University.
Roughly 8,400 black Missourians fought for the Union. Very likely a larger
number left Missouri to fight in the armies of Illinois, Iowa and Kansas. But for
all the sacrifice black soldiers made to secure equal rights, they were ultimately
dealt a short hand in postwar Missouri.
One former slave lamented how much better it would have been if only the
government had provided newly liberated slaves with "a little track of land,
a cow and a horse and give 'em a start." But nothing of the sort happened.
Missouri's Radicals stopped short of granting full citizenship to former slaves.
Black males in the reconstructed South gained the right to vote in 1865, while
Missouri Radicals deliberately denied suffrage to African Americans, including
veterans, in the Constitution of 1865. It would take the 15th Amendment in
1870 to right that wrong.
In 1872, at the end of Radical rule, former Conservative Unionists found
common cause with former Confederates to forge a new postwar political regime
that offered little to black people who sought full equality. The perspective of
150 years has yet to reveal the complete fulfillment of this long quest.
y
Jim Denny, a Co-Mo Electric member from Lupus, brings
ibrar
the L
sy of
te
the state's Civil War history to life in Rural Missouri as
cour
we commemorate the sesquicentennial of this
time in our nation's history. Order
Jim's book, "The Civil War's
First Blood," online
at www.ruralmissouri.coop.

Missouri's Emancipation Proclamation
was signed before
the 13th Amendment.

ess
ongr

of C


http://www.ruralmissouri.coop http://www.ruralmissouri.coop

Rural Missouri - January 2015

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - January 2015

Contents
Rural Missouri - January 2015 - Intro
Rural Missouri - January 2015 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - January 2015 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - January 2015 - Contents
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Rural Missouri - January 2015 - Cover3
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