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Essay Paper on African American History to 1865

…For many white people in the North, the Civil War was a war to “save the Union,” a conflict limited to the narrow goal of reuniting the North and the South. The “paramount object in this struggle,” President Abraham Lincoln declared in 1862, “is to save the union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery.” In many people’s eyes, this was a “white man’s war” that would end when the slave states of the new Confederate States of America rejoined the United States.

The idea of black military participation and the outright abolition of slavery won little public approval among northern whites in the first year of the war. Yet large numbers of African American men in the North demanded the right to take up arms on the side of the United States. “We are ready to stand by and defend the Government with ‘our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor,’” a meeting of free blacks in Boston announced. When the war began, black men in cities across the North enthusiastically formed informal rifle companies and attempted to join the army. To their surprise, the U.S. government rejected their offers. That policy would quickly change.

As the war dragged on, white casualties mounted, enlistment rates for new soldiers fell, and morale wavered. Some whites came to believe that enlisting black soldiers would spare the lives of white men and strengthen the Union effort. They also came to understand that only by attacking slavery in the South could the Union be victorious.

The vigorous lobbying and education campaigns waged by “Emancipation Leagues” made up of northern blacks and their white abolitionist allies also helped make the end of slavery and the enlistment of black soldiers a political reality. In mid-1862, the U.S. Congress voted to give Lincoln the option of using black troops. In his Emancipation Proclamation, which took effect on January 1, 1863, Lincoln took that option, officially authorizing the enlistment of black soldiers. “Men of Color, To Arms!” declared former slave and leading abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who became an active recruiter of black troops in the North…

The war to save the Union had become a war to end slavery, and black soldiers would play a vital role. From 1863 to the war’s end in 1865, roughly 186,000 African Americans took up arms against the Confederacy and the system of slavery it fought to uphold. More than one third of these men, some 68,178, would die. Who were these soldiers? Many — 53,000 — were northern free blacks opposed to slavery and determined to take part in its destruction. Approximately 40,000 came from the border states, slave states that did not secede from the Union and join the Confederacy. The largest number, 93,000, came from the slave states of the Confederacy. These escaped slaves saw the war as a way of winning freedom for themselves and their families and friends.

After Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, Congress allowed the enlistment of African-American soldiers into the U.S. Army in 1862. Though the new members of the so-called U.S. Colored Troops were paid less than white privates until 1864, African-American soldiers fought valiantly in many instances, proving themselves to skeptics who feared that African-Americans would be poor soldiers. The 54th Massachusetts Infantry became the most famous of regiment of African-Americans when they showed their courage by leading a bloody charge at Fort Wagner. The Confederacy often treated African-American Union soldiers quite severely in battles such as the Fort Pillow Massacre in 1864, but such hardships eventually resulted in freedom and launched African-Americans on the road to equality…

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