Black Soldiers In The Civil War


Black Soldiers In The Civil War Essay, Research Paper

During the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and part of the

Nineteenth Century the White people of North America used the

Black people of Africa as slaves to benefit their interests. White

people created a climate of superiority of their race over the Black

African race that in some places, still lingers on today. The

American Civil War however, was a key turning point for the

Black African race. Through their actions and the political actions

of President Lincoln and his administration, Black Africans set a

presedent for their freedom, equality and liberation.

A very important aspect of Blacks proving themselves was

that of the Black Man acting as a soldier in the Civil War. During

the Civil War the official decision to use Blacks as soldiers in the

Union Army was a slow gradual process and a series of strategic

political decisions. The actual use of Blacks as soldiers in the

Union Army was completed by a series of actions the Black Man

performed that won him the respect of becoming a soldier. The

two differ in that it was to President Lincoln’s benefit to enlist

Blacks as soldiers when he did. Whereas the later was the Black

Man’s will to fight for his freedom and prove himself as an equal

human being. However, because the Black population was barred

from entering the army under a 1792 law(4) the Black Man

becoming a soldier was not officially recognized until late 1862.

There was strong anti-Black prejudice among most people

in the free states, and in the loyal slave states the idea of arming

the Black man was anthema”(1). This statement directly reflects the

generally held fear White people had about putting Blacks on the

fighting line of the armies in the Civil War. Whites felt that the

Civil War was a war started upon the White Man’s issues and what

possible reason would the Black Man have for wanting to fight in

this war. On the contrary The Black Man saw The Civil War as an

opportunity to win freedom and gain respect(2). Blacks in the

North who were free from slavery willingly pledged their service

to fight in the Union Army however, their allegiance was denied

by President Lincoln on political grounds. Lincoln realized that

the issue of Black soldiers would be intolerable by the public and

would not be accepted. Initially, the Union Army utilized

Northern Blacks from the free states to relieve Whites from daily

tasks that were essential to maintain the armies, thus freeing up

White soldiers for battle. As the Union Armies began to move

further into Confederate territory however, they encountered many

runaway slave Blacks. These Blacks were the ones that contributed

most to the Union effort. This was true for two reasons.

First, there were many more Blacks in the South compared to the

North, roughly four million compared to two hundred thousand.

Secondly, the Black people in the South had more at stake, once

they left the Confederate side to join The Union there was no

turning back. Not only would they be deemed as trators but

runaways as well and were likely to face death if they where


In the beginning, when Union Armies would encounter

runaway slaves they would either hold them until their owner

retrieved them or they would return these people to the proper

Confederate Officials(1). This became a major burden to the

Union. Many generals did not want to be regarded as “slave

catchers” they realized their duty to be much more. Because of this

obstacle many Commanders enlisted the runaway Blacks for their

services without the consent of the Lincoln Administration. One

instance in particular, a precedent was set that would change the

policy of using Blacks in the Union army. Brig. Gen. Benjamin

Butler had encountered several runaway slaves. When A

Confederate Officer under a flag of truce had come to retrieve the

slaves, Butler refused on the grounds that slaves used by the

Confederate Army during war was no different than the use of

machinery or any other tool to aid in their progress. Therefore, the

Slaves would be considered contraband just as any other tool

would be(2). Shortly after this precedent was set The Lincoln

Administration passed The Confiscation Act which stated that all

Blacks encountered in confederate territory were to be taken in and

used at the Commanders descretion(1). This proved to be a great

help to the Union Army while a huge blow to the Confederates.

The Union was gaining manpower in direct proportion to the

Confederates loosing it. This alone played a huge factor in the

success of the Union Armies.

Eventually the confiscation of southern slaves began to

present a problem for the Union. The amount of Blacks fleeing

from the Confederate side began to overwhelm the Union Armies.

There were so many Blacks fleeing from the Confederate side that

Union Armies soon had more people than they knew what to do

with. The Union Armies had to find a place for these people, so

consequently a decision had to be made. Many of the men and

most all of the women and children were put to use on deserted

Confederate plantations. Of coarse there was always a threat of

Confederate rebels attacking these once owned plantations and

retrieving their slaves, so the Union allocated soldiers to protect

these plantations. This proved to become a real asset for The

Union. Not only where they commandeering new land and

moving further into Confederate territory, The Union utilized this

rich land and labor to supply it’s armies with foodstuffs and other


As the use of Blacks became more commonplace in the

Union Armies their position began to evolve. Many Generals

prematurely began to use the Black Man as a soldier. Without

consent from Washington these Generals armed the Black Man and

put them into a soldiers position. This action was not supported by

Lincoln and in fact looked down upon. However, this began to

happen throughout many of the Union Armies and became so

prevalent that Lincoln could not ignore it(1). Lincoln was caught

between a rock and a hard place. On one hand the reality was

obvious that the war was not going to end and that the Union

Armies needed more man power. On the other, Lincoln knew that

the public was not ready to see the Black Man armed and used as a

soldier. Being the keen politician that Lincoln was he made a

small step towards the inevitable. Lincoln declared a “general

arming” could be used to employ the Blacks in security measures

so they could further protect the lines of the Union Armies(1).

This was the official beginning in the progression of the Black

Man to becoming a soldier in the Civil War.

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