Sunday, September 8, 2013

African-Americans and Combat in the Trans-Mississippi

An alert reader sent me information about two more accounts of African-Americans experiencing combat in the early days of the war. Elizabeth Keckley, a mulatto, worked as a seamstress for Mary Todd Lincoln and became Mary Todd’s confidante as well. Keckley detailed her life story as a slave and White House employee in Behind the Scenes; Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Fours Years in the White House (1868). What I didn’t realize is that Keckley had a son that was killed at the battle of Wilson’s Creek on August 10, 1861. Historian James S. Price has documented this on his Freedom by the Sword: A Historian’s Journey Through the American Civil War Era blog. George W. D. Kirkland’s service, then, is an early example of a mulatto serving in the Union Army. There is also a possibility that a small number of runaway slaves experienced combat during a skirmish at Boonville, Missouri, on September 13, 1861. James F. Thoma wrote a short article about this episode titled “The Negro Soldier in the Second Battle of Boonville: The Earliest Combat Soldier.” 

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