African Americans And The Civil War

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The Civil War is often thought of as white northerners and southerners fighting over the freedom of African American’s. African American soldiers would fight on both sides of the war. The eventual acceptance of African American’s and their contributions to the Union Army would be pivotal in the Unions success. African Americans were banned from joining the Union Army in the early part of the Civil War. President Lincoln feared that African Americans in the Army would persuade certain states, such as Missouri, to join the Confederacy. Once African American soldiers could join the Union Army they would contribute to almost every major battle of the Civil War. 180,000 African Americans served in the Union Army in 163 different units, and 9,000 served as seamen in the Union Navy.1 President Lincoln stated, “Without the military help of the black freedmen, the war against the South could not have been won.”2
African Americans were ready to join the Union Army to fight against slavery in hopes that military service would demonstrate their equality. Several states, to include Louisiana, would form volunteer regiments as a result of the Militia Act of 1862 passed by Congress in July. The 1st Louisiana Native Guard was the first regiment of African Americans in the Union Army.3 This regiment of United States Colored Troops (USCT) was officially formed in September of 1862 and by October of 1862 was assigned duties. Two more regiments would be formed in Kansas and South Carolina.
The 1st Louisiana Native Guard was led by Major General Benjamin Butler, a white officer. The regiment was run by black captains and lieutenants. The regiments’ first combat operation was and assault on Port Hudson, Louisiana in May of 1863. They lost 37 soldiers, ...

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... of the James or Butler Medal.
The many contributions of the African Americans to the Union Army were recognized by President Lincoln. Fredrick Douglass said “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States.”13 Approximately 10 percent of the Union Army was African American. It is estimated that 40,000 African American soldiers died during the civil war. Approximately twenty five African Americans were awarded the Medal of Honor. The African American valor and contributions during the Civil War guided the nation on incomparable change. The heroics of those soldiers ultimately led to the constitution being amended to include voting and equal rights.
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