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Blacks In The Civil War

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Frederick Douglass moved many African Americans to enlist in the Union Army and fight for their freedom. Douglas wrote with passion and persuaded African Americans to join the fight against the oppressive south. Of the many men who heard and followed Douglas' call were his two sons. Both Charles and Lewis Douglas volunteered in the 54th Massachusetts Negro regimen. Charles became the 1st sergeant in the 5th Massachusetts cavalry. I cannot think of a greater sacrifice or proof of passion than allowing his two sons to enlist. This gesture showed that he believed greatly in the ideals behind the war for African American's freedom.

There were many reasons behind the civil war. Many speculate that the war began over the newly acquired territories in the west. The Mexican American war of 1846 resulted in a land and power struggle between the north and south. Although this dispute was about land and power it was also about slavery. According to Keith Dickson, "Northerners and southerners disagreed over the future organization of the newly acquired territory into states. The southerners desired and expected to be able to bring slaves into the new territory. Slavery was protected by the 5th Amendment in the Constitution at the time under protected property." (p.137)

With President Abraham Lincoln's introduction of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Civil War became a war to save the union and to abolish slavery. The Emancipation Proclamation was written in 1863 and was believed by many at the time to be the end of slavery. Many believe that the civil war began because of the north's push to end slavery, and the south resistance to free their slaves. The country was divided into the north "Union" and the south "Confederates". Many African American's fought in the civil war for a chance to live a free life. The civil war also brought an opportunity for African Americans to prove they were worthy of citizenship.

The issues of emancipation and military service were intertwined from the beginning of the Civil War. The African Americans believed that if they fought for the Union they stood a greater chance of becoming full citizens in the future. Thousands of African Americans followed the call to battle and volunteered their service. They were turned away however, because a Federal law written in 1792 which prohibited Negroes from bearing arms for the U.S. army although they had served in the American Revolution and in the War of 1812. The northern states needed time to correct and adjust the racist and hypocritical laws against African Americans in order for them to fight for their own freedom. In Boston volunteers who were turned away organized and passed a resolution requesting that the Government modify its laws to permit their enlistment.

Approximately 180,000 African Americans comprising 163 units served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Many African Americans served in the Union Navy as well. Both free African-Americans and runaway slaves joined the fight. On July 17, 1862, Congress passed two laws permitting the enlistment of African Americans.

It was the general perception of white soldiers and officers at the time that black men lacked the courage to fight. The white soldiers and their superiors didn't believe they could fight at all. The whites on both sides of the war lacked confidence in their African American counterparts. The Emancipation Proclamation was a call for change, but many years would pass before many of these stereotypes were disproved.

In October, 1862, African American soldiers of the 1st Kansas Colored volunteers silenced their critics by beating back the attacking Confederates at the battle of Island Mound, Missouri. By August 1863, 14 Negro regiments were in the field and ready for service. At the battle of Port Hudson, Louisiana, May 27, 1863 the African American soldiers bravely advanced over open ground in the face of deadly artillery fire. Although the attack failed, the black soldiers proved their capabilities. The Negro regiments took heavy casualties but gradually gained the confidence of their white counterparts.

On July 17, 1863 at Honey Springs, Indian Territory, which is now Oklahoma, the 1st Kansas Colored fought again with tremendous courage. Union troops under the command of General James Blunt ran into a stronghold which was commanded by General Douglas Cooper. After a two-hour bloody engagement, Cooper's soldiers retreated. The 1st Kansas, which had held the center of the Union line, advanced to within fifty paces of the Confederate line. There the 1st Kansas exchanged fire for some twenty minutes until the Confederate line broke and ran. General Blunt wrote after the battle, "I never saw such fighting as was done by the Negro regiment. The question that negroes will fight is settled; besides they make better solders in every respect than any troops I have ever had under my command." These words would further fuel the African American's fight for freedom and equality.

The most widely known battle fought by African Americans was the assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina. This battle was fought by the 54th Massachusetts Negro regimen on July 18, 1863. The 54th Massachusetts colored regimen was commanded by a white commissioned officers, Robert Shaw. and The 54th had actually volunteered to lead the assault on the strongly-fortified Confederate position. The valiant Negro regimen began to climb the fort's parapet, and was driven back after hours of brutal hand-to-hand combat.

Although black soldiers proved themselves as reputable soldiers, discrimination in pay and other areas remained widespread. In 1862 Congress passed the Militia Act, which granted soldiers of African descent to receive $10.00 a month minus a clothing fee of $3.00. The white Union soldiers were paid $13.00 and there was no clothing fee deducted from them. Eventually on June 15, 1864, Congress granted equal pay for all black soldiers. This trend or continued support for the African American soldiers proved that progress was possible and that it was worth the struggle.

1864 was a special year for African American troops. On April 12, 1864, at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest led his 2,500 men against the Union-held fortification. The fort was occupied by 292 blacks and 285 white soldiers. The Confederate General's men swarmed into the fort with little difficulty and pushed the Union soldiers down river into a deadly crossfire. Casualties were high among the African American soldiers, only sixty-two of the 292 colored troops survived the fight.

The battle of New Market Heights was a bloody one. On September

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