Introduction - Black Civil War SoldiersBlack soldiers played a very important role in helping the North win the American Civil War. At first African-American men were not permitted to join the army; but this changed and by the end of the war nearly 200,000 black men had served as soldiers or sailors in the Union Army and Navy. These men fought bravely in numerous battles including Petersburg, Milliken's Bend (part of the Vicksburg Campaign), and Port Hudson. The movie Glory rightfully glorifies the black 54th Massachusetts Regiment's assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina in July of 1863 where half of the black regiment was lost. Sixteen black soldiers would end up being awarded the Medal of Honor, the U.S. highest military honor, for their service in the American Civil War.
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On this page you will find a list of interesting facts about black Civil War soldiers. This information includes where black soldiers fought, how they got the right to join the military, and what prejudices they faced while serving. You will find links to detailed pages about some of the famous black soldiers and regiments.
Interesting Black Civil War Soldiers Facts
- At the beginning of the war black men were not allowed to join the army. This was due to a law passed in 1792. Although President Lincoln was pressured to allow for black Union soldiers he hesitated due to concerns that border states, those states loyal to the Union and bordering the north and south states, would be angered and join the Confederacy.
- Black people had served in the earlier American wars; the American Revolution and the War of 1812.
- After the Second Confiscation and Militia Act was passed on July 17th of 1862, giving Lincoln power to employ blacks to win the war, unofficial black regiments were formed that were officially mustered into the Union Army in January of 1863.
- Black regiments were usually commanded by white army officers. For example the famous 54th Massachusetts Regiment was led by Robert Shaw who was white.
- Black Civil War soldiers experienced discrimination in the Union Army. At first black soldiers were paid less than white soldiers and did not receive the same supplies and medical care. In June of 1864 the U.S. Congress ordered an end to this inequality and ordered that black soldiers were to receive equal pay, the same supplies, and same care as white soldiers.
- In May of 1863 the U.S. Bureau of Colored Troops was established to handle the overwhelming numbers of black men signing up for the Union Army.
- The famous black leader Frederick Douglass saw the participation of black Union soldiers in the American Civil War as an important step towards black people obtaining U.S. citizenship. He is quoted as saying "Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship."
- Approximately 40,000 black soldiers died during the American Civil War. Most of these deaths were from disease; as was the case with the cause of white soldier deaths.
- Black Union soldiers and their white commanding officers faced great danger if captured by the Confederates. The black soldiers faced enslavement or execution whereas the white officers faced execution for "inciting servile insurrection".
- Enduring additional prejudice for being women, black women were not permitted to join the Union Army. However many black women, although not soldiers, served their country bravely as spies, scouts, and nurses.
- It is a little known interesting fact that several black men actually joined the Confederate Army. The Confederate government did not officially allow black soldiers until near the end of the war in 1865 at which point they were losing the war badly and in desperate need of soldiers.