James Montgomery

Colonel James Montgomery

James Montgomery was born on December 22, 1814 at Ashtabula County, Ohio. He moved to Kentucky as a young man, was educated there, and became a teacher and itinerant preacher of the “Campbellite” version of Protestant Christianity. Subsequently, Montgomery moved to western Missouri, and then to Linn County in the Territory of Kansas. Brian R. Dirck, in “By the Hand of God: James Montgomery and Redemptive Violence,” Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains 27 (Spring-Summer 2004): 100-15, describes Linn County as a complex mixture of “proslavery farmers, freesoilers, U.S. army soldiers and nearby Ottawa Indians, a proslavery colony of Georgians who had emigrated en masse, and their slaves,” and passionate antislavery Kansans that eventually included James Montgomery in their ranks. During the violent episode of American history referred to as “Bleeding Kansas,” James Montgomery’s home was burned and he became an avenging antislavery radical who indiscriminately led “free-soil raids” on “Border Ruffians” from Missouri and merely proslavery Kansans. An inspiring and courageous figure in defense of his moralistic antislavery beliefs, Montgomery earned a reputation as a violent warrior raiding, looting, burning and taking lives, all done with a moralistic certainty justified by command of the Bible and his God.

In the summer of 1861, Montgomery joined a regiment of Kansas Union volunteers and was appointed colonel. In early 1863, he was authorized to raise a regiment of black soldiers from among the thousands of former slaves who were escaping to the protection of Union Army lines. As William Apthorp’s manuscript indicates, Colonel Montgomery traveled to Union-occupied Key West, Florida to recruit the first 130 black soldiers of his command. The men were transported to Beaufort, South Carolina, and temporarily merged with the First South Carolina Loyal Volunteers, a newly formed black regiment undergoing training by Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson. During subsequent campaigns in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida, Montgomery and his men from Key West participated with Higginson and the men of the 1st South Carolina while recruiting former slaves to fill the ranks of the regiment. Two regiments emerged from these activities, the 33rd United States Colored Infantry under Higginson and the 34th USCI under  Montgomery.