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The Eleventh Regiment, United States Colored Troops was organized in Fort Smith (Sebastian County) on December 19, 1863. The regiment was attached to the Second Brigade in the District of the Frontier, Seventh Corps in the Department of Arkansas of the Union army, where it remained until the war’s end in April 1865. Four companies—A, B, C, and D—were mustered in at the time the regiment was organized. Company E was mustered in on March 3, 1864. The new regiment was commanded by white officers who were all from the North.
The new recruits, now wearing Union blue, were former slaves from Fort Smith, Van Buren (Crawford County), and surrounding settlements, including Dripping Springs (Crawford County), Kibler (Crawford County), and Alma (Crawford County). In addition, several of the men who had been enslaved in the nearby Choctaw Nation, and even as far away as Mississippi, escaped their former masters and made the treacherous journey to Fort Smith with the hopes of joining the new all-black unit.
The regiment’s first assignment was not glamorous. The men spent most of their time as laborers unloading or loading steamships and railroad cars, as well as drilling and repairing the massive earthwork fortifications that surrounded Fort Smith. They also served as teamsters and guards and participated in formal dress parades in town and at the fort.
The Eleventh did not see its first military action until the summer of 1864 at Gunther’s Prairie in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), located twelve miles northwest of Fort Smith. On August 24, five companies totaling 265 men were guarding cattle and a haying operation. According to military reports, the unit was attacked by 300 to 400 Confederate cavalrymen made up of Indians and white troopers. For one hour, the fighting was almost constant; it lasted until 7:30 a.m., with sporadic firing continuing until 10:00 a.m.The attacking Confederate cavalry made three separate charges and was repulsed each time. After the third try, the cavalry retreated. Confederate losses were not reported, but the Eleventh reported three men killed, with fourteen men missing or wounded.
Following this action, the unit marched to Fort Gibson (which had been renamed Fort Blunt during the war in honor of Major General James Blunt) in Indian Territory to work on the earthwork fortifications that surrounded the fort. It was not until mid-October 1864 that they returned to Fort Smith.
One month later, in November 1864, the regiment left western Arkansas for Lewisburg (Conway County). The Eleventh saw action again at the Skirmish at Boggs’ Mills on January 24, 1865. On the night of the January 24, a detachment of Newton’s Confederate regiment seized the mill, located twelve miles from Dardanelle (Yell County), with the purpose of grinding as much flour as possible before daylight. But Lieutenant Colonel James M. Steele, leading the Eleventh, surprised the Confederate force, capturing eighteen horses and twenty stands of arms, as well as all of the flour and Newton’s papers. The regiment then returned to garrison duty at both Little Rock (Pulaski County) and Lewisburg.
Just one week after General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant, the Eleventh—which was never a full regiment—was consolidated with the 112th and 113th United States Colored Troops to form the new 113th USCT regiment on April 22, 1865. The 113th USCT remained in Arkansas until the men were mustered out on April 9, 1866.
For additional information: 11th United States Colored Infantry Materials. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas. Finding aid online at http://arstudies.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/findingaids/id/5610/rec/1 (accessed February 26, 2014).
Christ, Mark K., ed. Rugged and Sublime: The Civil War in Arkansas. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1994.
Cornish, Dudley Taylor. The Sable Arm: Black Troops in the Union Army, 1861–1865. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1987.
Dyer, Frederick A. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. Part 3. Des Moines, IA: Dyer Publishing Co., 1908.
The Union Army: Cyclopedia of Battles. Vol. 5. Madison: Federal Publishing Co., 1908.
Steven L. WarrenOverland Park, Kansas
Last Updated 2/27/2014
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