African Americans in the Civil War Essay
The role African Americans played in the outcome, and the road to the outcome of the Civil War was immense. The fact that the south had slaves and the north did not played an enormous role in the issues. The north wanted to abolish slavery, and the south did not and after the war started this became one of the main reasons for the Civil War. Since most African Americans could not read or write, this made them an easy target, for slavery, against the dominant white man. Once the slaves got to America they started to realize how much trouble they were actually in.
The north and the south had a problem brewing, and that was due to the slave uprisings and the run a ways. African Americans played an enormous role in the outcome of the Civil War because of the part they took in it. The civil war, which took place from 1861 to the 1920s, the African American community made tremendous strides toward them becoming apart of America and equals in America. Since they had been controlled by the power of the whites for so long, their independence was extremely unfamiliar to them, with their new emancipation.
Since they were so uncertain, they debated about the most effect way to go about actually receiving the rights they deserved. They did not just want to be inferior Negros. Some African Americans thought the actual approach would be to go along with the submissive status the whites held them to, so they could earn their respect until fairness pervaded. Others were more wishful with their thinking and thought the military would make whites surrender and give blacks their basic rights. Those who were still they are thought that no progress would ever come.
These blacks decided that it was essential to escape the shackles and cruel attitudes toward blacks. The civil war initially began to save the Union. At the start of the war slave masters were terribly scared that the slaves would run to join the Union and help the war efforts. To subsidize the problem, most owner enforced harsh restrictions on their slaves. Some owners even moved their whole plantations inland to avoid any contact with the outside northerners. This did not stop the slaves one bit though, this just caused more slave to flee to the north. The slaves that did decide to stay just demanded more freedom from their masters.
Some would say the ones that stayed even gained more power; this forced their masters to give them offerings in exchange for work. The issues of emancipation and military service were intertwined from almost the beginning of the war. News from Fort Sumter made African Americans rush to enlist in military units. They were all turned away since there was a law dating from 1792 that kept African Americans from joining the U. S. army. In Boston disappointed African Americans met and passed a resolution that requested the Government to modify its laws to permit them to enlist. Then Lincoln’s Second Confiscation Act was passed.
The act stated that, Confederates who did not surrender with in sixty days of the acts passage were to be punished by having their slaves freed. The Militia Act was also passed. This act stated African Americans were allowed to fight in the war. These two acts together thoroughly punished rebel slaveholders. The African Americans that enlisted both fought in the front lines and worked behind the scenes labor jobs. All these rights that the African Americans were receiving inspired them to return home and free their families and friends. Some of them even started living in the plantations that they used to be slaves of.
They took them over and began their own cropping. Some of the other plantations had been left to older disabled white woman, when the men had left for the Confederate army. All of this led to the separation of slave labor in the south After trying terribly hard to keep the issue of slavery out of the war, the North decided to start enlisting African Americans to help them fight in the war. The Fifty-Fourth regiment was created by the Union Army, and was the only all black unit. This Union in particular contributed to the war efforts of the North and showed a new found power among blacks.
The regiment started when John Andrew sent a request to the secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, to create a volunteer regiment of African Americans (3). African Americans from all over the country joined. To help recruit even further they called for help from African American leaders like, Frederick Douglas and William Wells Brown. In just two months over one thousand African Americans, one from at least every state, had enlisted in the regiment. The leader of the regiment would not be black though, they wanted the superior officer to have some certain credentials.
The job description posted read: “Young Man of Military Experience Of firm antislavery principles, ambitious, Superior to the vulgar contempt of color Having Faith in the capacity of colored men for military purpose” (2) The man picked for the job was Robert Shaw. The African American regiment and their captain set off for Beaufort, South Carolina on May 28, 1863 (1). They were to attack Fort Wagner, which was a vital key to Charleston. They only way to storm the fort was to go through loads and loads of Confederates. The sheer size of the Confederates to the Fifty- Fourth regiment was an obstacle in itself.
The regiment knew the amount of obstacles they would have to overcome to achieve a victory and yet they kept marching. Shaw and a few men marched to the top of the parapet, and there Shaw was shot and killed. Though this was almost a complete disaster for the regiment they had set a path for future African American soldiers. Frederick Douglas said, “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.
” One thousand seventy-nine African Americans had served in the Civil War. They served in both the U. S. Army and about two thousand served in the Navy. By the time the war was over, forty thousand had died in battle and thirty thousand had died of disease and infection. African American soldiers performed all the jobs needed to run an army. They also served as carpenters, chaplains, cooks, guards, laborers, nurses, scouts, spies, steamboat pilots, surgeons, and teamsters (4). There were nearly 80 black commissioned officers (4). Harriet Tubman was the most famous spy; she served for the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers.
Tubman decided to help the Union Army because she wanted freedom for all of the people who were forced into slavery, not just the few she could help by herself. And she convinced many other brave African Americans to join her as spies, even at the risk of being hanged if they were caught (4). Among Harriet Tubman were many other African American women who served as nurses, spies and scouts. Although, no women were allowed to formally join the army. When black troops were captured by the confederate soldiers, they faced harsher punishments than the white troops.
In 1863 the Confederate Congress threatened to punish officers of African American troops and enslave the African Americans, if they were captured. As a result of this, President Lincoln issued General Order 233, which threatened payback on Confederate prisoners of war, if they mistreated African American troops. This order did scare the Confederates a little, but African American soldiers were still treated harsher than whites. In one of the worst examples of this abuse, Confederate soldiers shot to death black Union soldiers, captures at Fort Pillow, TN, in 1864().
Confederate General Nathan B. Forrest witnessed it all and did nothing to stop it. The President, Abraham Lincoln, issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. This proclamation eventually led to the freedom of all slaves. The document officially made free all bondsmen in the areas of the Confederacy that were still in rebellion. Slavery although was not abolished in the Border States, Tennessee, or the Union occupied areas of Louisiana and Virginia. The proclamation only affected the states in rebellion, so after the efforts it didn’t actually free any slaves.
On the other hand, it did strengthen the Northern war efforts, because they knew they were fighting for a cause. Over five hundred thousand slaves had escaped to the North by the end of the civil war. Many of the escapees joined the Union Army, which tremendously increased its power. As a result of the Emancipation Proclamation, the thirteenth Amendment was created. The Amendment created on December 18, 1865, legally freed all slaves still in bondage. The final step the Emancipation Proclamation was to depress England and France from arriving to the war on the side of the South.
England and France wanted to enter the war on the South side, because the South had supplied them both with cotton and tobacco. England and Frances stance changed when they heard that the war had changed to a fight over slavery. Both nations were opposed to slavery, so ended up giving their support to the Union. That led to the winning of the fight for freedom. Juneteenth was the day created to celebrate the emancipation, when the slaves heard about it that midsummer. The holiday is still celebrated today. Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.
I believe this government cannot endure permanently half-slave and half-free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall, but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. “(3) African Americans along with the rest of the Union were fighting for this freedom and equality that Abraham Lincoln, was talking about. African American contributions were not limited to the role of working the fields in the south or supplying labor for industry in the north.
Many African Americans in both south and north participated in either direct or supporting roles in the military. The War Between the States proved to be a war fought for democracy. The liberation that the slaves had been waiting for, recovered the ideas that founded the United States of America. All men were equal under the law. Since, the African Americans made such a persistent effort the changes were made more quickly. Africans pushed for their own emancipation by resisting their masters and other labor tasks.
Although a formal Emancipation Proclamation and Thirteenth Amendment freed blacks in America, it would be a long time before they received all the rights they deserved. The minds of Americans had been so engrained with racism only decades of hard work would lessen this. Works Cited 1) Freeman, Elsie, Wynell Burroughs Schamel, and Jean West. “The Fight for Equal Rights: A Recruiting Poster for Black Soldiers in the Civil War. ” Social Education 56, 2 (February 1992): 118-120. 2) “Blacks in the Civil War. ”. Colorado College. Web. 3 Mar 2013.
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