Black soldiers made a major contribution to the Federal victory. Nothing so signified the victory of the American anti-slavery movement than the appearance of black soldiers under tge colors of the American republic. The most famous Black unit was the 54th Massachusetts. While the Confederates were outraged by the Federal use of Blacks, by the end of the War they were considering the formation of their own Black units. The ideas of Blacks outfitted in military uniforms and equipped with weapons, however, proved a step the Confederacy could never take, even in the final desperate months. The fear was so intense that for decades after the formation of the Boy Scouts, southerners prevented Blacks from forming Boy Scout units. There are two notable aspects about the participation of Blacks in the Civil War. First was the importance of the Black units in the War. There were no Black units in the first 2 years of the War, but as the Federals were having increasing difficulties recruiting replacements and draft riots took place, Blacks helped meet the Federal manpower needs and Black units made a major contribution to the War. About 0.2 million Blacks participated in the Civil War, many of whom were slaves who ran away or liberated by the Federal Army. Blacks came to make up 10 percent of the Federal Army. They also played a major role in the Federal Navy. The other notable aspect is the fact how little credit the participation of Black soldiers was given by both historians and in the popular mind. The literature of the War and after the turn of the 20th century, the mass media essentially wrote Black soldiers out of the Civil War. This did not begin to change until the 1980s.
Much has been written about the Underground Railway. This did provide freedom for several thousand slaves. Most of those who reached saftey im the North or Canada, however, fled from the border states. The possibility of slaves in the Deep South of reaching the North were very limited. And it was in the Deep South where most slaves were held in bondage. The opportunity to successfully run away changed barkedly with the onset of the Civil War. When Federal troops entered the South, slaves began running away in large numbers to reach the Federal lines. Federal Commanders called the runaways "Contraband". Many commanders did not know what to do with them. A few commanders returned them. Most did not and began using them for labor. They did not at first, however, allow them to enlist for military service.
President Lincoln wrestled with emancipation in part because of the border states and because of the military situation. Finally after the Federal vicyory at Antitm he decided to act. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation (September 22, 1862). It declared in those states still in rebellion on January 1, 1863, "All persons held as slaves...shall be then, thenceforward and forever free." It was alimited war measure, but one of the most monentius acts in American history. It changed the dynamic of the War. Secessioin and rebellion in the South was from the beginning centered on slavery. This was not the case in the North. The support for the War in the North was primarily to preserve the Union. Many of the men who flocked to the colors in 1861 and 62 did not to save the Union. Many of these men would not have done so if the call was to free the slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation added emancipation to the Federal cause. And many began to believe, as a result, that the country's 4 million blacks ought to be allowed to paticipate in the struggle.
At the nset of the War, northern blacks attempted to volunteer for military service. They were turned away by the states forming military units. There was considerable resistance to arming black men. It was widely though that black soldiers would not be needed. It was to be a quick war and the rebellion would soomn be supressed. Blacks at the time were not actual citizens, And the idea of blacks carry weapons was unsettling to many whites. Others had the idea that blacks would not be reliable soldiers. Despite the Northern antipathy to slavery, the idea of white racial superiority was still widespread. The terrible casualties and the need for man powerr began to change attitudes. The Emancipation Proclamation by changing Federal war aims also affected northern thinking. Some Federal commanders attempted to enlost black soldiers, but were precented from doing so. The War Department did not begin to recruit blacks until 1863.
The Department authorized governors to begin recruiting black volunteers. Governor John Andrew in Massachusetts was the first to act. He helped organized the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment.
This was the first colored regiment. Other northern states quickly followed the Massachusetts example.
Frederick Douglass made recruiting appearances. Many northern blacks answered the call to the colors. It was a momentous point in American history. Douglas wrote, "Once you let the black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S., an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder…there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States." Recruitment in the North, however, had limitations. Most blacks lived in the South. The War Department created the Bureau of Colored Troops (May 1863). The Bureau was responsible for organizing the recruitment of blacks in the border states and areas of the South occupied by the Federal forces. This was necessay because the recruitment of Federal soldiers was done by the states, but of course state officials in the border staytes were often unestusiastic and in the South part of the rebellion. The Bureau of Colored Troops assigned recruiters throughout the border states and occupied South.
Black soldiers made a major contribution to the Federal victory in the Civil War. Black units were crucial to the Federal victory. There were no Black units in the first 2 years of the War, but as the Federals were having increasing difficulties recruiting replacements and draft riots took place, Blacks helped meet the Federal manpower needs. And at the time the Conderacy could not meet its manpower needs. d Black units made a major contribution to the War in the crucial battles of 1864. About 0.2 million Blacks participated in the Civil War, many of whom were slaves who ran away or liberated by the Federal Army. Blacks came to make up 10 percent of the Federal Army. They also played a major role in the Federal Navy.
The most famous Black unit was the 54th Massachusetts.
We do not yet have indivisual accounts by black soldiers archived on HBC. We do note a portrait of one young blak soldier--Jackson. Unfortunately we know almost nothing about him.
Civil War histories generally focus on the great land battles. The U.S. Navy did, however, play a major role in the Federal victory by blockadeing southern ports. As well as supporting Federal units along the coast and in inland waters. While blacks were not in the U.S. Army at the time the Civil War broke out, this was not the situation at sea. There were quite a substabtial number of black sailors. I am not enyirely sure why this difference existed. I suspect it was because operating a sail boat was quite a complex undertaking requiring crew members have a range if skills that the average oersn did not have. Blacks because they wrked on whale boasts and clippers had these skills and thus were more readily accepted at sea. Irinically this chnged after the Civil War when the Navy began creating an essentially all white service. Blacks were restricted to rolles likes cooks ans mess duty. And even this was limited when after the Spanish American War, Fhilipinos were recruited for mess duty.
The Confederacy from an early point in the War used black slaves. They were primarily used for labor in building fortifications and entrenchments, maintining the railroads, and other purposes related to the War. I think they were primarily used behinf the lines because to use them near the Federal lines increased the opportunities for them to run away. An issue developed in that some slave owners owners did not want to turn over their slaves to Confederate labor gangs and wanted to keep them on the plantations. Some Confederate officers brought slaves with them as personal sevants during the War. I am not sure how common that was, but I know it occurred. Arming blacks to fight was a very different matter. While the Confederates were outraged by the Federal use of Blacks, by the end of the War they were considering the formation of their own Black units. It was a hotly debated issue. The ideas of Blacks outfitted in military uniforms and equipped with weapons, however, proved a step the Confederacy could never take, even in the final desperate months. The fear was so intense that for decades after the formation of the Boy Scouts, southerners prevented Blacks from even forming Boy Scout units.
The other notable aspect of Black participation in the Civil War is how little credit they received after the War. Black soldiers were given little attention by both historians and in the popular mind. Here the Lost Cause historians played a major role, but the racist attitudes of most Americans at the time was probably the larger factor. The literature of the War and after the turn of the 20th century, the mass media essentially wrote Black soldiers out of the Civil War. This did not begin to change until the 1980s.
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