The Status of African-American Soldiers in the Regiments of Massachusetts

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The Civil War, which began in April of 1861, was a war that most saw as ending by the end of the year – not one person expected it to turn into the long and drawn out slaughter that it became. It was a war that came about originally because of the secession of Southern states from the Union in the belief that the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency would render emancipation inevitable. Only white soldiers fought against each other at the outset of war but by mid-July of 1862, Henry Wilson – a Senator from Massachusetts who strongly opposed slavery – had passed a bill that allowed the President to bring African-Americans into active service in the Union army and following the Emancipation Proclamation the President finally allowed the recruitment of colored regiments. By creating a position for African-Americans in the army the status of these men in northern society was increasingly under question. This reflects recognition of the fact that as slavery became the main issue of the war something had to be done in relation to the position of these men in northern society. However, the changes that occurred could not go unnoticed by the South or by Northern whites and put a final stamp on the sectional division.

The institution of slavery and the increasing strain it brought between North and South made questions about the position of African-Americans in society increasingly prominent both amongst whites and blacks. Since they had been removed from their home environment and branded as slaves, a process beginning in 1619, the status of blacks had remained one of inferiority to white Americans. Although Lincoln originally argued that the Civil War was about keeping the Union together, a change would have to occur if the N...

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