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Black People And The Civil War

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Black Soldiers in the Civil War

During the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and part of the Nineteenth Century the White people of North America used the Black people of Africa as slaves to benefit their interests. White people created a climate of superiority of their race over the Black African race that in some places, still lingers on today. The American Civil War however, was a key turning point for the Black African race. Through their actions and the political actions of President Lincoln and his administration, Black Africans set a presedent for their freedom, equality and liberation.

A very important aspect of Blacks proving themselves was that of the Black Man acting as a soldier in the Civil War. During the Civil War the official decision to use Blacks as soldiers in the Union Army was a slow gradual process and a series of strategic political decisions. The actual use of Blacks as soldiers in the Union Army was completed by a series of actions the Black Man performed that won him the respect of becoming a soldier. The two differ in that it was to President Lincoln's benefit to enlist Blacks as soldiers when he did. Whereas the later was the Black Man's will to fight for his freedom and prove himself as an equal human being. However, because the Black population was barred from entering the army under a 1792 law(4) the Black Man becoming a soldier was not officially recognized until late 1862.

"There was strong anti-Black prejudice among most people in the free states, and in the loyal slave states the idea of arming the Black man was anthema"(1). This statement directly reflects the generally held fear White people had about putting Blacks on the fighting line of the armies in the Civil War. Whites felt that the Civil War was a war started upon the White Man's issues and what possible reason would the Black Man have for wanting to fight in this war. On the contrary The Black Man saw The Civil War as an opportunity to win freedom and gain respect(2). Blacks in the North who were free from slavery willingly pledged their service to fight in the Union Army however, their allegiance was denied by President Lincoln on political grounds. Lincoln realized that the issue of Black soldiers would be intolerable by the public and would not be accepted. Initially, the Union Army utilized Northern Blacks from the free states to relieve Whites from daily tasks that were essential to maintain the armies, thus freeing up White soldiers for battle. As the Union Armies began to move further into Confederate territory however, they encountered many runaway slave Blacks. These Blacks were the ones that contributed most to the Union effort. This was true for two reasons. First, there were many more Blacks in the South compared to the North, roughly four million compared to two hundred thousand. Secondly, the Black people in the South had more at stake, once they left the Confederate side to join The Union there was no turning back. Not only would they be deemed as trators but runaways as well and were likely to face death if they where caught.(3)

In the beginning, when Union Armies would encounter runaway slaves they would either hold them until their owner retrieved them or they would return these people to the proper Confederate Officials(1). This became a major burden to the Union. Many generals did not want to be regarded as "slave catchers" they realized their duty to be much more. Because of this obstacle many Commanders enlisted the runaway Blacks for their services without the consent of the Lincoln Administration. One instance in particular, a precedent was set that would change the policy of using Blacks in the Union army. Brig. Gen. Benjamin Butler had encountered several runaway slaves. When A Confederate Officer under a flag of truce had come to retrieve the slaves, Butler refused on the grounds that slaves used by the Confederate Army during war was no different than the use of machinery or



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