The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 allowed settlers in those territories to determine by referendum whether they would enter the Union as a slave or as a free state. This federal legislation replaced the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that declared all land north of the 36o 30’ N parallel within the Louisiana Purchase would be free of slavery. For political reasons, many Missourians feared having additional free states along its border. Attempts by Missourians to sway the vote in Kansas by crossing the border to stuff ballot boxes in favor of slavery failed and outraged many of the Kansas settlers. Jayhawkers from Kansas would make raids into Missouri against Bushwhackers and both sides were guilty of many atrocities on the citizenry. Jayhawkers sometimes freed Missourians’ slaves who often sought refuge in Kansas. Animosity over Kansas’ status led to direct violence, even massacres, and near open warfare in western Missouri and eastern Kansas from 1855 until Kansas was declared a free state in January 1861, three months before the first shells exploded over Ft. Sumter.
Once war was declared, the number of African-American refugees increased in Kansas. By the summer of 1862, former slaves were recruited into what would become the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry. Union military officials in Kansas recruited them months before the federal government officially would allow African-Americans into military service.
By August 1862, the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry had grown to about 500 soldiers – enrolled, uniformed, armed and trained into a disciplined unit and ready for action. Orders came in October 1862 and a detachment of more than 225 infantrymen and a company of cavalry scouts left their base in Kansas for Bates County, Missouri where they were “to proceed to a point on the Osage, Bates County, Missouri, and there break up a gang of bushwhackers.”
What would follow was the first instance of African-American troops being directed to oppose forces aligned with the Confederacy the American Civil War. The battle, or skirmish, was not large; seven Kansas enlisted men and one officer were killed and guerilla losses are unknown but may have been over thirty. What was particularly significant was the attention that this action received in the national media and the effect it had upon military and political skeptics of arming former slaves. Reports of the success of the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry against a larger opponent and of the ferocity that they showed that day encouraged other federal African-American units that were forming elsewhere. Almost 200,000 black soldiers would become engaged during the Civil War.
This site contains 40 acres and includes the site of the Toothman Farm where the First Kansas Colored Volunteers barricaded themselves into what they dubbed “Fort Africa”. The site where the battle itself took place is about ½ mile south of the present acreage and on private property.