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African American Soldiers and the Civil War

African American soldiers played an essential role in the American Civil War (1861-1865). The Civil War was the war between States – the Union and the Confederate, the North and the South. It began because the South wanted to secede, but the North did not agree. The white Northerners accepted emancipation and allowed African Americans to participate in the war. This decision was crucial for African Americans, making about 180,000 black soldiers join the fight (Gannon). Although black-skinned soldiers did not win many well-known battles in this war, their efforts were important for the American society of those times.

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The Union Army began to recruit black soldiers when the number of white soldiers was too small to win the war. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Second Confiscation and Militia Act to employ African Americans in the state services (Weidman). However, this Act did not allow African Americans to participate in combat. Only in 1863, after the Emancipation Proclamation, were black-skinned soldiers officially permitted to serve in the American Army (Weidman). Since that moment, the Union Army changed, and more and more African Americans were freed from slavery to participate in the war.

As in any other war, people faced many difficulties in the Civil War. African Americans, however, suffered the most. Their problems were the result of racial discrimination and prejudices. Thus, white Americans believed that African Americans were inferior. They performed different non-combat duties, such as cooking, driving, or working as laborers. In the Union Navy, African Americans served on “integrated ships alongside white sailors” (Gannon 5). However, the Confederate Army continued to enslave black people and refused to accept them as soldiers. In 1864, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest captured the garrison at Fort Pillow and initiated the heinous massacre of black and white soldiers (Gannon 5). The number of killed and wounded African Americans was much bigger than that of the whites.

Moreover, African American soldiers received lower wages than white Americans. For example, black-skinned soldiers received $10 per month, $3 of which were deducted for food and clothes (“African-American Soldiers during the Civil War”). In comparison, white Americans earned $13, and nothing was deducted from it (“African-American Soldiers”). If the Confederate Army captured a black soldier, he would experience a much greater peril than his white fellows. Such an attitude did not contribute to the Army’s performance and success. Nevertheless, African Americans continued to serve the Army well, and the American Congress decided to grant them equal pay.

Another difficulty black soldiers faced during the war was a lack of training. Unlike white soldiers, the African American infantry was usually not trained before the battles. For instance, one of the first battles where African American troops took part was the battle at Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana. In this battle, Confederates attacked the Unions, whose forces consisted of the “9th, 11th, and 13th Louisiana and the 1st Mississippi regiments and the 23rd Iowa Infantry” (Arrington). Most of the Union soldiers were former slaves, and they were removed from the cotton fields just before the battle. Nevertheless, they fought with all their courage and determination because that battle would mean freedom to them. After the battle, more and more African Americans began to leave the cotton fields and came to the Union Army to seek freedom.

Despite all those difficulties and hardships, African Americans were brave soldiers. The Black River Bridge Battle demonstrates their heroic courage in that war. In that battle, the Federals captured “1,751 men, 18 cannon, and 5 battleflags” (“Battle of Big Black River Bridge”). In comparison, only 39 men of the Union Army were killed, 237 injured, and three missed (“Battle of Big Black”). The Federals achieved such great results due to their African American soldiers who participated in this battle. A perfect organization of the missions and heroic bravery of the black soldiers helped the Army win that battle.

Another example of a successful fight was the battle at Honey Springs, Indian Territory. In this combat, African Americans fought alongside and against Native Americans. Most of the soldiers in this fight were black. According to Gannon, their commander said about the colored troops: “they fought like veterans, and preserved their line unbroken throughout the engagement” (10). Their victory was a result of their bravery and insistency. In two years after this battle, the black soldiers helped capture Fort Fisher, and this victory was one of the last greatest victories of the Civil War. In such a way, African American soldiers demonstrated their strong desire to be free from slavery.

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Having analyzed the entry of African Americans in the Civil War, I can conclude that their role was often underestimated. The representatives of this minority group demonstrated their strength and valor in many battles, even though they did not receive enough training and weapons. They fought to save the State from the split and save their black-skinned compatriots from slavery. Nowadays, we can reconsider the role of African Americans in the Civil War and see that that war would end differently if the black troops did not participate in it.

Works Cited

African-American Soldiers during the Civil War.Library of Congress. Web.

Arrington, Derrion. “The Battle of Milliken’s Bend (1863).Blackpast, 2020. Web.

“Battle of Big Black River Bridge.” National Park Service. Web.

Gannon, Barbara A. “African American Soldiers.Essential Civil War Curriculum, Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech, 2014-2016. Web.

Weidman, Budge. “Black Soldiers in the Civil War.” National Archives. Web.

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