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Matthews, William Dominick (ca. 1833-ca. 1910)

Image Ownership: Public Domain

 

William Matthews first comes into historical view at the outbreak of the Civil War. A black freeman from birth and a “prominent citizen” of Leavenworth, Kansas, he had arrived in Leavenworth in 1856 and established a successful boarding house.  Shortly after the War began he was appointed Superintendent of Contrabands by the Kansas Emancipation League and charged with helping escaped slaves who were coming to Kansas in large numbers. 

After receiving a specific promise from Senator James H. Lane of an officer’s commission, Matthews raised a company of 80 blacks, mostly escaped slaves. After he served several months as a captain, in early 1863 the War Department rejected Matthews’ commission. The War Department was unwilling to have black officers commanding combat troops (even though over 180,000 African Americans were to serve in the U.S. military).  Immediately, twenty-one regimental officers --all white-- endorsed a memo to Senator Lane in support of Captain Matthews. Ultimately, Matthews received a commission as a lieutenant in the Independent Kansas Colored Battery and saw combat along the Missouri River, at Reeder Farm near Sherwood, Missouri, and Cabin Creek and Honey Springs in Indian Territory. The regiment also performed garrison, engineer and escort duty. Little is known of Matthews’ life after the Civil War.

 

 

Sources:
Maj. Michael E. Carter, USAF. "First Kansas Colored Volunteers: Contributions of Black Union Soldiers in the Trans-Mississippi West." M.A. Thesis, Webster University, 2000; Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the Civil War (Boston: Little, Brown, 1953).

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University of Washington

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