1st Sgt. John Carter, member of Company F, First Kansas Colored Infantry (later the 79th U. S. Colored Infantry)1, and Fort Pillow Post No. 321, Grand Army of the Republic, reflects back on the Engagement at Poison Springs, Ouachita County, Arkansas, April 18, 1864.
I was with the 1st Kansas U. S. Colored regiment, sergeant in company F, in the battle of Poison Springs, Ark. General Steele’s army was lying at Campden on the Red river, and as provisions were scarce, he sent out a force of 198 wagons to gather corn from the country. Colonel Williams of our regiment was in command of the escort, which consisted of the 1st Kansas colored, under Major Mard, 195 cavalry of the 2d, 6th and 14th Kansas, and two pieces of the 3d Indiana battery, under Lieutenant Haines, in all 695 men. We went out about fifteen miles and loaded up our wagons with corn. When starting back the rebels under General Marmaduke concluded to relive us of that wagon train. He had a force of 3,700 men, with twelve pieces of artillery. His plan was to surround us and take wagons, men and all. The artillery opened out upon us with great fury. We lay down and escaped much injury, until discovered, when their batteries rake us severely. When their batteries ceased, we arose and charged their entire line…Three different times our regiment confronted this same 29th Texas. We had an old man by the name of Earle for our captain, but he gave out that day and there was no other white officer in the company. Colonel Williams said to me: ‘Sergeant Carter, take command of that company,’ and I did. It was a gallant charge, and the Texans were glad to get beyond our reach. The colonel complimented us on our work, and the white soldiers did the same. Once a white regiment refused to go with us, saying they did not enlist to fight with negroes, but then they said: ‘Boys we will go with you anywhere.’ The enemy was too much for us and we had to make our way back to the river as best we could, losing all our wagon train and many comrades. All the time General Steele was within hearing distance and never budged to help us. Banks had been defeated before this and Steele was afraid to move out lest he should get hurt. The rebels killed every wounded colored soldiers found on the field. Once we captured 80 rebels and they expected us to kill them, but we treated them as prisoners of war. They said they had orders to kill every colored man they captured. Our regiment lost 117 killed and 65 wounded on that occasion. It was a sorry expedition, but the 1st Kansas colored regiment made for itself a record there of which we are all proud.
According to military records, John Carter, born about 1835, Tennessee, enlisted on August 16, 1862, at Topeka, Kansas. At the time of his enlistment, he was described as five feet, seven and a half inches tall, with black eyes, hair, and complexion. His stated age was twenty-seven, and listed as a mechanic by occupation. He mustered in on January 13, 1863, at Fort Scott, Kansas, and appointed Sergeant later that afternoon. He was later appointed First Sergeant on May 31, 1865, and mustered out of service on October 1, 1865, Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
After the war, John Carter settled in Topeka with his wife, Annie, a native of Missouri. For a brief period, he worked as an express wagon driver, but was mostly identified as a harness maker. In the 1870 U. S. Federal Census, John was documented as the owner of real estate worth one thousand dollars, and a personal estate worth one hundred and fifty dollars. In social circles, John Carter was a long time member of Fort Pillow Post, no. 321, Grand Army of the Republic, an African American post of Civil War army and navy veterans formed in 1883.2
John Carter passed away on January 29, 1902, at his residence on Madison Avenue, Topeka, from complications of pneumonia. He was included in the June, 1902 roll of deceased members of Fort Pillow Post, Grand Army of the Republic.
Sadly, John’s wife Annie also passed away on January 29th, preceding her husband in death by less than two hours. Notices of their deaths were carried by several local newspapers, including the Topeka Plaindealer, the Topeka State Journal, and the Topeka Daily Herald.
Yesterday afternoon John Carter and Anna Carter, his wife, both died, and that within less than two hours of each other. Mrs. Carter succumbed to an attack of pneumonia and passed away at 12:50 p.m., while Mr. Carter died at 2:25 p.m. from old age. Mrs. Carter has been ill for about a week and her husband has been in poor health for some time past. The two old people lived in their little home at 113 North Madison street, all alone, and it was their love and solicitude for each other that has made their lives worth living.
Yesterday morning when both felt that the end was drawing near, Mrs. Carter told her husband that she would be the first to go, but that she would wait for him on the other side, he replied that the separation would not be for long. Mr. Carter was an old soldier, and it was to a complication of diseases contracted in the army, that his breaking down was due. He was about 70 years of age, while his wife was 56.
Their neighbors have been very kind to them since their illness, and have looked after them continually. Both funerals will be held tomorrow afternoon at 2 o’clock in the Second Cumberland Presbyterian church, between Quincy and Monroe streets on Thirteenth. Mrs. Carter will be buried by the Benevolent Society No. 3, and Fort Pillow post, G. A. R., will have charge of the exercises over the body of Mr. Carter. The old people were married when quite young, and have been residents of Topeka for a number of years. Having lived together for so long, it seems to be singular fitting that they should die and be buried together. They have one married daughter, but she does not reside in this city.Topeka Daily Herald, January 30, 1902
Although the obituary from the Topeka Daily Herald mentioned only one daughter, John and Annie Carter made provisions in their will for two heirs, daughter Mary Jane Carter, born about 1879, and Mary Frances “Fannie” Halley Carter Stonestreet (1861-1909), wife of Frederick M. Stonestreet, undertaker and trustee of Mount Auburn Cemetery.3
In the name of God, Amen:-
WE, John Carter and Annie Carter, husband and wife, knowing the uncertainties of life, do in the presence of the Almight God and in the presence of these witnesses, make this our last will and testament, each being of sound mind and memory.
First: – We desire all our just debts to be paid.
Second:- We will and bequeath unto our beloved children; Martha Jane Carter and Fannie Halley, jointly, as our sold heirs at law, each to receive an undivided half interest to the lots numbered thirteen (13) and fifteen (15) Madison street, in the city of Topeka, County of Shawnee and State of Kansas to have and to hold forever.
Third:- We will and bequeath unto our beloved daughter, Martha Jane Carter, all our personal property, consisting of Beds, Bedding, Stoves, Chairs, Tables, Linen and all other personal effects unto us belonging, to have and to hold the said Martha Jane Carter forever
In testimony whereof, we have hereunto set our hands, in the presence of witnesses, this 29th day of January, A. D. 1902.
Witnesses, John X Carter/Annie X Carter
Annie L. Thompson
We the undersigned witnesses to the foregoing will and testament do hereby swear that we were present and saw the testator herein sign their names to said will and the same was done in our presence.Will of John and Annie Carter, Shawnee County, Kansas. Ancestry.com
1st Sgt. John Carter and his wife Annie Carter rest in Topeka Cemetery (est. 1853), Topeka, Kansas. A handy tool to locate their graves within the cemetery may be found on the cemetery’s official website.
Major Theodore Jay Weed to the men of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers, 1863
“It is with the sincerest feelings of pleasure that I congratulate you upon the event just concluded – your muster as soldiers into the service of the United States. By this act you are henceforth and forever free. I took upon this battalion mustered here to-day, as the germ of a new organization; the first regiment of your color ever formed in a free State. It will grow in strength, until the new policy introduced shall revolutionize the war, giving Liberty to the bond, and restoring the Union to greater than pristine glory.
“Soldiers, you, I trust, will soon see the day when you will be harbingers of freedom to all men of your Color in the land. You have borne jeers and sneers of open enemies and false friends. In submitting to much, your triumph is greater. Go on as you have so well commenced, and you will be, as I hope and desire to see you, the model military organization of the war, in drill, discipline and efficiency. You are now recognized as soldiers in the army of Freedom. The victorious march of the great principles concerned, are in your own hands. Continue to persevere in your well-doings, and I am satisfied that such interests will be carefully maintained.“4
- The 79th U. S. Colored Infantry was formed on December 13, 1864.
- Ancestry, “1870 U. S. Census,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : accessed 2 November 2019), entry for John Carter (b. ca. 1835), Shawnee County, Kansas, dist. Topeka Ward 1, p. 20, citing “Year: 1870; Census Place: Topeka Ward 1, Shawnee, Kansas; Roll: M593_442; Page: 175B; Family History Library Film: 545941.”
- Ancestry, “Kansas State Census Collection, 1855-1925,” database, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : accessed 2 November 2019), entry for Martha Jane Carter (b. ca. 1879), Shawnee County, Kansas, dist. Topeka Ward 2, p. 246, citing “Kansas State Historical Society; Topeka, Kansas; 1895 Kansas Territory Census; Roll: v115_142; Line: 1“; The Topeka Plaindealer (Topeka, Kansas), 17 September 1909, p. 3, col. 2; image copy, Newspapers.com (https;//www.newspapers.com: accessed 2 November 2019)
- “Muster of the Colored Regiment,” The Leavenworth Times (Leavenworth, KS), 17 January 1863, p. 2. col. 3; image copy, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com: accessed 2 November 2019.)