2021: History Boy Summer (Part 12) Battle of Island Mound State Historic Site

In my tour of both Kansas and Missouri sites including The Battle of Mine Creek and The Marais Des Cygnes Massacre Memorial, the final stop was Butler, Mo for The Battle of Island Mound State Historic Site. As I stated in the previous posts, I would recommend grouping these together to maximize your day, and even add a quick stop at the cemetery at Trading Post, Kansas (something I regretfully did not know about). The Battle of Island Mound is a fairly important Civil War battle, not for the size, casualty rate, or even a big defining moment that tipped the war one direction or another. The reason for it’s importance is that it is the VERY first battle where a majority black regiment saw actual fighting, and we’re talking before the Emancipation Proclamation went out.

Battle of Island Mound State Historic Site; Butler, MO

Background

According to the sites website:

The peaceful setting at Battle of Island Mound State Historic Site is in dramatic contrast to the battle that occurred here in 1862 – a battle that marked a significant milestone in the history of the Civil War. This minor skirmish has national significance because it was the first time Black soldiers engaged in combat during the Civil War.

Battle of Island Mound State Historic Site preserves the site of the Toothman Farm, which the First Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry used as its headquarters and renamed “Fort Africa.” Exhibits at the site interpret the Battle of Island Mound and its significance in the history of the state, the nation and the Civil War. Courage Trail, a 0.5-mile trail around the site, includes wayside exhibits with more information about the battle.

An open picnic shelter provides a shaded area to have a picnic lunch or a comfortable place to contemplate what occurred on this site in 1862.

Battle of Island Mound State Historic Site is a partner site in Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area and the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, both operated by the National Park Service. The heritage area is a consortium of parks, sites and museums in eastern Kansas and western Missouri that interpret the community, regional, and national stories of the journey to freedom. The National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom is a national effort to coordinate education efforts about the Underground Railroad and its role in assisting enslaved individuals seeking freedom.

Reading

Before my visit, I purchased a rather thin book from the Bushwacker Museum online store (even before I visited that site!) about the Battle of Island Mound. Despite the battle’s historical significance, it’s one of those civil war periods that is very overlooked much like a lot of Missouri Civil War battles. Since there wasn’t a lot of detailed analysis of the battle in other books, so I figured that there would be no better source than this, at least until I can find something else. The book itself is basically a longform essay on the battle written about 20 years ago for the Bates County Historical Society. While it’s no classic of literature or anything, I enjoyed the book and it educated me quite a bit on the battle. Check my review out for more information.

The Trip

This is one of the newest historic sites in the State of Missouri, so it doesn’t yet have all the “Bells and whistles” that most local historical sites have. As of this writing, there is not a visitor center of any sort, assuming that that’s even in the plans for the future. The site itself consists of a gazebo with interpretive signs a couple of monuments and a nature shrill through the battlefield with a guided tour presented with more signs. One of the highlights is a window feature to which one can gaze through and see a framed look at the Prairie and the old zigzag fence around it.

Conclusion

This is one of those sites that is still in its infancy, so it will be very interesting to see what happens moving forward. I’d love to see a visitor center go in with artifacts and perhaps information about the first African American volunteer regiment in Kansas, and the first nationwide to see battle in the name of preserving the Union. As it stands right now, I’m not sure I would make a trip to this particular site on its own, as there really isn’t much to see or do there. But, in conjunction with a visit to the aforementioned other sites, it was a nice ending to a wonderful day of historical sightseeing. I kind of wish that I had gone at a different time, and perhaps I could have visited the Bates County Museum which I assume has the artifacts I’m talking about. Maybe next time!

This article is part of my summer series History Boy Summer, which you can keep up with by following this LINK.

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