African Americans in the Civil War
In the history of the United States, discrimination was something that African Americans faced painfully in the Civil War era and which continues to happen on a milder scale in today’s society. When African Americans first came to America, they were forced to perform manual labor against their will. Greedy, rich, lazy Americans called themselves superior to the “different, dark-skinned” people who slowly became slaves to the whites. In bondage, they received no pay and were physically abused. Their struggle for freedom saw no hope until the Civil War became inevitable. When the war began, African Americans united in the fight to free all slaves of their kind. Although it did not come easily, the opportunity finally came for blacks to serve as soldiers and fight alongside white men, and they proved their ability to withstand the hardships of battle and become distinguished American heroes.
The road to emancipation was a long and hard one for African Americans. The northern states joined the Civil War in the fight to oppose and prevent succession of the Confederate states from the Union. The president at the time, Abraham Lincoln, had a main goal of preserving the Union by bringing the Confederacy back, but ironically, in his letter to Horace Greeley, the “Great Emancipator” stated that he would “save the Union without freeing any slave”1 if he could. Lincoln’s paramount objective was to prevent the war from occurring. However, he could not prevent the outbreak of runaway slaves yearning to contribute to their own freedom. The issues of emancipation and military service were linked by the happening of the Civil War. African Americans tended to be one of two statuses: enslaved by white plantation owners or enlisted in the U.S. military units. As Southern slave masters grew increasingly more fearful of losing slaves to the Union army, they tightened restrictions on the slaves. It was not uncommon that a master would go so far as to move further inland to avoid any contact from the North. This tactic worked opposite of the expectations; more slaves fled, and the ones that remained on plantations demanded more compensation from their masters. To some extent, the slaves gained power as the masters began to make offerings and/or compromises in exchange for continued labor. When the effort to save the Union became more of a fight to abolish slavery, the Northerners began recruiting and enlisting blacks to battle on their side. Lincoln’s Second Confiscation Act and the Militia Act, both issued in 1862, were important in building up the Union military force, because together they punished rebel slave-owners and encouraged blacks to join the North’s army. Blacks who served were either fighting in active combat or assigned to carry out labor tasks behind the lines. The longer they served, the more inspired they became in achieving emancipation; thousands returned home to free their still-enslaved friends and family, taking their masters’ possessions and beginning their own cropping on the plantations. Slave discipline no longer had any organization or enforcement since plantations had been left in the care of white women, the old, and the disabled by men that left to serve in the war. Labor production in the South decreased due to confused authority, rebellion by African Americans, and a sense of anarchy. Approximately 178,000 men served the Union army, making up about 10% of their forces, and around 20,000 served in the Navy. Black soldiers worked in the infantry and artillery, and carried out non-combat activities to keep the army going. Black carpenters, cooks, scouts, spies, surgeons, and other laborers also helped the war effort. Around 80 black men made their way up to be commissioned officers. Black women, who still were not able to formally enlist to serve in the army, contributed by being nurses, spies, and scouts; the most famous of these women is known by the name of Harriet...
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