James Brennan, Museum Educator at the National Civil War Museum, talks about African American soldiers in the Civil War.
African Americans in the Civil War - History of the United States
Early in the war, Northern blacks who wanted to fight to end slavery tried to enlist in the Union Army. But the Army rejected them. Most whites felt the war was a “white man’s war.”
As Northern armies drove into Confederate territory, slaves flocked to Union camps. After a period of uncertainty, the Union government decided to allow them to perform support services for the Northern war effort. In time, as many as 200,000 blacks worked for Union armies as cooks, laborers, nurses, scouts, and spies.
The Emancipation Proclamation also announced Lincoln’s decision to use black troops, though many whites believed that blacks would make poor soldiers. About 180,000 blacks served in the Union Army. Two-thirds of them were Southerners who had fled to freedom in the North. About 20,000 blacks served in the Union Navy, which had been open to blacks long before the war. Black troops formed 166 all-black regiments, most of which had white commanders. Only about 100 blacks were made officers.
Blacks fought in nearly 500 Civil War engagements, including 39 major battles. About 35,000 black servicemen lost their lives. Altogether, 23 blacks were awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military award, for heroism. A black regiment was one of the first Northern units to march into Richmond after it fell. Lincoln then toured the city, escorted by black cavalry.
For more information about civil war, visit World Book Online Encyclopedia.
- Why were there slaves in the South and not in the North?
- What was the Underground Railroad?
- Was slavery the only cause of the Civil War?