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Black Soldiers in the Civil War

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Riley Anderson-Barrett

on 16 December 2013

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Transcript of Black Soldiers in the Civil War

The 54th Massachusetts
Abolitionist Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts issued the Civil War’s first call for black soldiers in 1863.
To lead the 54th Massachusetts, Governor Andrew chose a young white officer named Robert Shaw. Shaw’s parents were wealthy and prominent abolitionist activists. Shaw himself had dropped out of Harvard to join the Union Army and had been injured at age 25.
Helping The Cause
Slow Gain of Equality
Black soldiers were initially paid $10 per month from which $3 was automatically deducted for clothing.
In contrast, white soldiers received $13 per month from which no clothing allowance was drawn.
In June 1864 Congress granted equal pay to the U.S. Colored Troops and made the action retroactive. Black soldiers received the same rations and supplies. In addition, they received comparable medical care.
Black Soldiers in the Civil War
What was it?
The first northern-recruited black unit, whose bravery and sacrifice served as a measure of African American devotion to the Union and its cause.
Women in the Army
Black women, who could not formally join the Army, nonetheless served as nurses, spies, and scouts, the most famous being Harriet Tubman, who scouted for the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers.
By the end of the Civil War, roughly 180,000 black men (10% of the Union Army) served as soldiers in the U.S. Army and another 19,000 served in the Navy.
Nearly 40,000 black soldiers died over the course of the war—30,000 of infection or disease.
Black soldiers served in artillery and infantry and performed all noncombat support functions that sustain an army, as well.
A Call to Colored Men
African Americas were not allowed to join in war efforts earlier, and all were turned away when they attempted to enlist. Later, when they were allowed to enlist, posters were made with advertisements serving to encourage African American Males to join the military.
Volunteers from South Carolina, Tennessee, and Massachusetts filled the first authorized black regiments. Recruitment was slow until black leaders such as Frederick Douglass encouraged black men to become soldiers to ensure eventual full citizenship.
"Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship."
- Frederick Douglass
News from Fort Sumter set off a rush by free black men to enlist in U.S. military units. They were turned away, however, because a Federal law dating from 1792 barred Negroes from bearing arms for the U.S. army (although they had served in the American Revolution and in the War of 1812). In Boston disappointed would-be volunteers met and passed a resolution requesting that the Government modify its laws to permit their enlistment. The Lincoln administration wrestled with the idea of authorizing the recruitment of black troops, concerned that such a move would prompt the border states to secede. By mid-1862 the escalating number of former slaves (contrabands), the declining number of white volunteers, and the increasingly pressing personnel needs of the Union Army pushed the Government into reconsidering the ban.
The Need For Soldiers
By Seamus Wilson
Riley Anderson-Barrett
and Rachel Arbios
Full transcript