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Reports & Essays: History - American History

"AND""OR"

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 any other tool to aid in their progress. Therefore, the Slaves would be considered contraband just as any other tool would be(2). Shortly after this precedent was set The Lincoln Administration passed The Confiscation Act which stated that all Blacks encountered in confederate territory were to be taken in and used at the Commanders descretion(1). This proved to be a great help to the Union Army while a huge blow to the Confederates. The Union was gaining manpower in direct proportion to the Confederates loosing it. This alone played a huge factor in the success of the Union Armies. Eventually the confiscation of southern slaves began to present a problem for the Union. The amount of Blacks fleeing from the Confederate side began to overwhelm the Union Armies. There were so many Blacks fleeing from the Confederate side that Union Armies soon had more people than they knew what to do with. The Union Armies had to find a place for these people, so consequently a decision had to be made. Many of the men and most all of the women and children were put to use on deserted Confederate plantations. Of coarse there was always a threat of Confederate rebels attacking these once owned plantations and retrieving their slaves, so the Union allocated soldiers to protect these plantations. This proved to become a real asset for The Union. Not only where they commandeering new land and moving further into Confederate territory, The Union utilized this rich land and labor to supply it's armies with foodstuffs and other resources.(3) As the use of Blacks became more commonplace in the Union Armies their position began to evolve. Many Generals prematurely began to use the Black Man as a soldier. Without consent from Washington these Generals armed the Black Man and put them into a soldiers position. This action was not supported by Lincoln and in fact looked down upon. However, this began to happen throughout many of the Union Armies and became so prevalent that Lincoln could not ignore it(1). Lincoln was caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand the reality was obvious that the war was not going to end and that the Union Armies needed more man power. On the other, Lincoln knew that the public was not ready to see the Black Man armed and used as a soldier. Being the keen politician that Lincoln was he made a small step towards the inevitable. Lincoln declared a "general arming" could be used to employ the Blacks in security measures so they could further protect the lines of the Union Armies(1). This was the official beginning in the progression of the Black Man to becoming a soldier in the Civil War.

 



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