African American Role In Union Victory

  • Category: History
  • Words: 1155
  • Grade: 93
Black Glory: The African-American Role in Union Victory

                The Civil War has captivated generations on Americans. From the causes of civil war down to the material culture of the war, Americans has sought with eagerness to learn about and understand this particular event in this nation's history. The President, Lincoln's cabinet, the Congress, the military commanders, and the armies all consume the attention of most people with this history today.
        The Civil War has created racial divergence of American society, which has left an unforgettable impression on Americans today. Although White Americans in the past saw and understood the war as the military campaign to preserve the Union, African Americans saw and understood the war as the ultimate weapon to destroy slavery and gain freedom. What started initially as a war to suppress rebellious southern states seeking their autonomy evolved into a war to free the slaves. In doing so, the war dramatically changed the course of the nation's history and redirecting the destiny of the American government and citizenry. It established the atmosphere to end slavery, created the momentum to grant citizenship to African-Americans, and provided protection for the rights associated with freedom.
        "We want you damned niggers to keep out of this; this is a white man's war." This was a comment once made by a police officer that disapproved of a new organized group called the Black Brigade who were ready to battle in the Civil War. Around this time and period there was much tension and debate over who was allowed to fight in the war. Most whites felt that blacks weren't worthy and should not be allowed to fight simply because of ignorance and prejudice. Throughout this period of time, President Lincoln, although he was under much pressure from the whites, steadfastly refused to alter his "strict" policy on enlisting men of African descent. Joseph T. Glatthaar explains in his essay how Lincoln was attempting to save the Union without dealing with the question of slavery and without alienating the border slave states that remained in the Union. However, groups including some military commanders defied the policy or lack of policy in regard to utilizing a readily available force.
                At one point the federal military policy prohibited the recruitment and training of African Americans. The Congress decreed this in 1792 and consequently preserved the military for white males only. Few federal policy makers and white northerners considered or believed that African Americans could or should play a military role in the war. They failed to see the connection between the destruction of slavery and the war.
With President Abraham Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, the Civil War became a war to save the union and to abolish slavery. The war produced an unplanned and unseen process for emancipation accompanied by a profound social revolution of immense proportion. Once freedom became a stated objective of the war, freedom quickly became a terrain of conflict where blacks and whites collided and struggled to shape, define and control during and after the civil war.
        After the Emancipation Proclamation of May of 1862 was issued all slaves in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida became free. The act was repudiated by the Lincoln administration. Shortly thereafter, General Hunter, without permission began recruiting ex-slaves from the Sea Island area for formation into the 1st Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers. The regiment attracted much attention and helped prepare the country to accept black troops.
        During the Summer and into the Fall of 1862, President Lincoln gradually and steadily altered his view of the war and issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September. In late August, the War Department in a radical policy shift officially sanctioned the recruitment of blacks with a policy statement: "All slaves admitted into military service, together with their wives and children, were declared free forever." Approximately 180,000 African-Americans comprising 163 units served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and many more African-Americans served in the Union Navy. Both free Africans-Americans and runaway slaves joined the fight.
        After the official issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, a vehicle was set into motion that allowed the establishment of regiments with black enlistees and white officers. The edict was only directed to the states that had seceded and very few slaves were voluntarily freed. As far as the Confederacy was concerned "the Proclamation was not worth the paper it was written on." However thousands of slaves were freed by the invading Union forces and many others escaped into the Union lines. The dynamic of the war forced changes in the federal policy towards African Americans and slavery. Several factors converged to produced freedom and destroy slavery- the initiatives of slaves, the persistent campaigns of black and white abolitionist, the actions of Union field commanders, the actions of the Congress, and Lincoln's move to emancipate slaves in rebellious states. These events unfolded as the course of war changed daily. As Federal armies penetrated the South, the use of slave labor for Confederate purposes became quite apparent to the Union commanders. Confederate forces depended heavily on this labor to perform necessary functions to support the infantry and the calvary on the battlefields and the camps. They worked in the iron foundries, constructed fortifications and breast works, transported material, tend calvary horses and raised staple crops for war and commercial purposes. Slave labor became indispensable to the Confederate war efforts and survival. Ironically, slaves became a thorny issue to the Confederate government and Union commanders when they took initiatives to escape slavery, leaving the plantations by the thousands and moving towards Union troops.
        The Civil War became a seedbed for change and led the way as a liberating force with a huge impact on black life. For the moment the black military experience expanded and deepened the campaign for equal rights, and provided an enormous example to commit the nation of equality and freedom. Fighting and drying for one's country was the ultimate sacrifice and demand the rights of citizenship. African Americans both slave and free, had long accepted America as their home, and they were willing and committed to fighting for their freedom. The people of African descent who were once held in bondage and forced to remain illiterate, sought their freedom, fought and died for the freedom of all Americans. They were by no means all shiftless and lazy, as many leading and biased historians would persuade to people believe. In fact they suffered, sacrificed and triumphed over our nation we have today. Although the blacks had little recognition, we must realize that if it weren't for the blacks the Union would not have won the war as they did.
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