The men of the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry fought in a skirmish on James Island, South Carolina, on July 16, 1863, making them the first African-American soldiers to experience combat during the Civil War. Right? Well, not quite… perhaps the first were the men of the African Brigade (the 9th Louisiana Infantry, the 11th Louisiana Infantry, and the 1st Mississippi) as they engaged in a ferocious defense against Confederate soldiers at Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana, on June 7, 1863? No… It must be the portion of the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry that served at Island Mound, Missouri, on October 29, 1862. But, no, that is wrong also.
Some of you may recall that I posted a piece on October 4, 2011, about the skirmish at Locust Grove, Indian Territory. In the short posting, I used the skirmish at Locust Grove to illustrate how even “small” events could have important consequences, but the skirmish at Locust Grove was significant in yet another way. The First Indian Home Guard, made up mostly of refugee Creek and Seminole Indians from the Indian Territory, also had in its ranks 25-30 African Creeks. These men, some of them former slaves in the Creek Nation, were mustered in during the spring of 1862 in refugee camps in Kansas. The First Indian Home Guard was primarily responsible for the Union victory at Locust Grove, therefore earning the African Creeks in that unit the distinction of being the "first... regularly mustered blacks in the federal army” to experience combat during the war according to Dr. Gary Zellar (“Occupying the Middle Ground, 55). Now, in case you want to quibble that Locust Grove was a mere skirmish, and it doesn't really "count," bear in mind that the First Indian Home Guard also fought at Prairie Grove, a major battle, on December 7, 1862. When do you think a movie will be made about these men?
For further information about the African Creeks see the following:
Zellar, Gary. African Creeks: Estelvste and the Creek Nation. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007.
Zellar, Gary. “Occupying the Middle Ground: African Creeks in the First Indian Home Guard, 1862-1865.” Chronicles of Oklahoma. V. 76 (No. 1, 1998): 48-71.