Ft. Smith's and Van Buren's Black Civil War Soldiers
The 11th U.S. Colored Troops

by
Angela Y. Walton-Raji

Like many cities, towns and settlements throughout the south, Ft. Smith Arkansas had its share of incidents as the Civil War descended upon the frontier community. Conflicts were felt in each direction from Ft. Smith---to the east from Massard Prarie eastward, towards Little Rock which also had its share of skirmishes, and to the north in Crawford and Washington counties. Conflicts had drifted southward from Missouri. In the west, in Indian Territory, the Indian nations---the Five Civilized Tribes signed an alliance with the Confederates and had immersed themselves into the conflict, and southward into Louisiana action had been spurned.

Not surprisingly then, Ft. Smith, site of a military outpost, (and only a few miles from Ft. Gibson,) would feel the direct impact of the war. Not often mentioned in the city's history is the fact that from within the limits of the town of Ft. Smith, a Union regiment was formed at the military garrison. The 11th United States Colored Troops. Letters had been received at the military post in early 1863, not long after the Emancipation Proclamation had come from Lincoln. The proclamation stated that slaves were to be freed in the states that had seceded from the Union, Arkansas being among them. Shortly thereafter, Lincoln also finally yielded to the pressure allow for the development of Black Union regiments. In the early days, Arkansas, allowed several regiments formally known as regiments of African Descent. This designation is often seen in early civil war reports of units--A. D.,  for African Descent. They were soon reorganized as the United States Colored Troops.

Arkansas would see 6 regiments organized, and among them was the 11th United States Colored Infantry. This unit is now officially known as the 11th USCT (old) referring to the fact that the unit later merged with another regiment and was given a different designation. In the case of the 11th USCT, the unit merged with the 112th and 113th US Colored Troops to become the new 113th USCT Infantry.

Before the reorganization of this regiment, the 11th US Colored Infantry was to have the experience of combat. The history of the 11th is also worth knowing-- The 11th US Colored Infantry was organized in Ft. Smith, Arkansas on December, 19, 1863. It was immediately attached to the 2nd Brigade in the District of the Frontier, as part of the 7th Corps, in the Dept. of Arkansas. It remained part of this corps till April 1865.

Who were the soldiers themselves?  They were slaves from Ft. Smith, Van Buren, and  its surrounding settlements, Dripping Springs, Kibler, Alma and other communities. In addition, several men who had been enslaved in nearby Choctaw Nation, heard about the opportunity to join and they trekked across the countryside, and slipped into Arkansas and joined the 11th US Colored Infantry.

The first assignment of the 11th regiment was post and garrison duty, which was very ordinary and without much incident militarily.  The unit remained at the Ft. Smith post till November 1864. In August of 1864, however, the unit was to become involved in battle in Ft. Smith. Coming out still with a Union foothold on Ft. Smith, these black soldiers remained at the military post till November, where they were moved eastward towards Little Rock. On January 24, 1865, the unit saw battle again at Boggs Mills. Sustaining injuries from both, as well as loss from disease, the unit went forward to Little Rock and Lewisburg, Arkansas till April. In late April after the surrender of Lee's army in Virginia, the unit was officially consolidated with the 112th and 113th to form the new 113th U.S. colored Troops on April 22, 1865. They were mustered out of the 113th USCT a year later, on April 9, 1866.