Battle of Island Mound State Historic Site

Location: Butler, Missouri

Webpage: Missouri State Park

General Description: Battle of Island Mound State Historic Site preserves the location of Toothman Farm, where the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry used as its headquarters, named “Fort Africa.”  This skirmish on October 29, 1862 marks the first time during the Civil War that colored troops were tested in battle.  The regiment was made up mostly of former slaves that had escaped from Missouri and Arkansas.  In August they were mustered into the First Kansas Colored Volunteers by Captain James Williams.  They weren’t mustered into the Union Army until January, 1863 after the Emancipation Proclamation.  Captain Ward’s 170 man battalion and Captain Seaman’s 70 man battalion were ordered to cross the Missouri River to break up a guerilla army based on Hog Island in the Osage River.  The area away from the river was mostly open tall-grass prairie and farms, without many trees.  As they approached the area on October 27, 1862, they identified a large party of about 350 Confederate supporters under the command of Bill Truman and Dick Hancock and Missouri State Guard recruits under the command of Colonel Cockrell.  Since this was a larger group then expected, the First Kansas occupied the Toothman Farm, a Confederate supporter, fortifying it with fence rails to create breastworks.  On October 29, the guerrillas set the prairie on fire, which was a common guerilla tactic, the fire heading towards the Toothman Farm.  Seaman countered by setting a back fire to protect their position, however, this created a smoky environment that made scouting difficult.  Regardless, Seaman set out a small scouting party that were suppose to remain in sight of the farm.  However, they were drawn into a skirmish and disappeared from sight in the smoke.  A small party was then sent out to retrieve the scouts, but they also disappeared into the smoke with sounds of battle increasing.  Captain Ward was then dispatched in support and he soon saw the soldiers were being surrounded down in the river bottom.  He sent word back to Fort Africa and Seaman sent his force forward in flanking positions.  The mounted guerillas had the upper hand as they outnumbered Ward’s soldiers.  However, Ward formed a line and shot a volley into the charging cavalry.  The battle then became a man-to-man melee until Seaman could get there to drive the guerillas off.  Casualties were not large on either side numbering 8 Union and 30-40 guerillas.  However, the main importance of the battle was to prove that former slaves could be fierce fighters against a superior number of foes and would stand firm in battle.  This was all 3 months before they were formally allowed in the Union Army.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) There is really not much to see at the State Historic Site except a wide open field that they are actively restoring to a tall-grass prairie.  There is a nice paved walkway around the open area with a few interpretive signs along the 0.5 mile trail.  The kiosk at the parking lot is informative about the battle, but the State Historic Site is not even at the battlesite which is a couple of miles away.  Instead it is at the location of Toothman Farm, which they called Fort Africa.  However, even the location of the farm house is not known and has yet to be found.  It took less than an hour to explore the site.