Free to FightBy NICOLE ETCHESON
Andrew Williams was a slave child in Mount Vernon, Mo., when Union troops from Kansas came to his master’s house in the fall of 1862. Despite President Lincoln’s promise to leave slave owners in loyal states alone, a Union officer invited Williams’s mother to “be free,” along with the rest of the slaves on the property. They loaded into a wagon and drove off. Even before President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, freedom was coming to the Midwest.
Like many contrabands from Missouri, the Williams family traveled to Lawrence, Kan. A Fort Scott man estimated the daily migration of emancipated slaves out of Missouri at somewhere between 50 and 100. By the end of the war, a greater proportion of Kansas’s population would be black than ever before or since.
Some white Kansans organized relief societies to aid the contrabands who often arrived destitute. Others welcomed them as troops who could help “crush the rebellion.” Although the War Department authorized African-Americans only as laborers for the military, Lt. Col. Daniel Read Anthony of the Seventh Kansas Regiment insisted that his men not only free any slaves they encountered but also “arm or use them in such manner as will best aid us in putting down rebels.” Kansas’s new senator, James H. Lane, organized the refugees into military units, making Kansans among the first Northerners to accept African-Americans as soldiers.( "It is useless to talk any more about Negro courage," The Chicago Tribune reported after the Battle of Island Mound. "The men fought like tigers."Collapse )Source
If you have any interest in the American Civil War, I highly recommend following the NYT's Disunion blog