Black Soldiers in the Civil War

John Andrew

John Andrew

In February  of 1863, the  Governor of Massachusetts  John Andrew, issued the first official call for the recruitment of African American Soldiers to fight in the Civil War. The call was heard by many as 1,000 soldiers turned out to enlist.  These soldiers would make up the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the North’s first all black infantry. The unit was made up of freed slaves and black soldiers from Canada and the Caribbean. The Unit was commanded by, Robert Shaw, a young white Officer.

This 54th was famous for its attack on Fort Wagner, which guarded Charleston, South Carolina. This marked the first time that a black unit had lead an attack in the civil war. Unfortunately, the 54th was outgunned and outnumbered by the confederate troops, and 600 of the 54th’s 1,000 members were killed, including Shaw.

The 54th Massachusetts Infantry is perhaps the most famous example of Blacks fighting in the civil war but it is not the only one.  Shortly after the Civil war broke out, Abolitionist Frederick douglas along with many others campaigned for the Union Armies to enlist the help of black soldiers. Douglas and his colleagues believed that the enlistment of black soldiers would be beneficial because it would both provide the North with capable soldiers and help with the campaign for equal rights.

However,  President Lincoln was afraid of this ideal, because he worried that arming African Americans, particularly former or escaped slaves, would push the loyal border states to secede. This, in turn, would make it almost impossible for the Union to win the war.

However, after two tough years of war, President Lincoln reconsidered his stance on black soldiers. The war did not appear to be anywhere near an end, and the Union Army badly needed soldiers. White volunteers were few and far between, and African-Americans were more eager to fight than ever.

The in 1862, The Second Confiscation and Militia was the first step toward the enlistment of African Americans in the Union Army.  Although, It did not explicitly invite blacks to join the fight, it did authorize the president “to employ as many persons of African descent as he may deem necessary and proper for the suppression of this rebellion in this case, he sought to employ them as soldiers.

Throughout the war, Black Soldiers fought valiantly, and bravely. In fact, Sixteen black soldiers won the Congressional Medal of Honor for their brave service in the Civil War.

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