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African-Americans in the Civil War


The Civil War marked the beginning of the African-Americans serving in the army. The Union side of the war was open to free black volunteers in the war, but the Confederate States treated the blacks as slaves. The irony of the war is that, while the African-Americans from both sides of the war were looking to attain freedom, segregation was the highlight of the war. The Civil War marked the onset of some fundamental changes in the American society like the enlistment of African-American in the army, and the permission for blacks to handle firearms.

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The Civil War was a war between the Confederate and the Union side, and it involved the entire American society, including the minorities that served as slaves in the Confederate States. African-Americans are among the ethnic groups that played major roles in both sides of the war. The war marked the development of cohesion among the minority and majority ethnic groups in the Union, but it highlighted a high level of inequality between the minority and the majority ethnic groups in the Confederate States. The Civil War is a historical landmark that provided a fundamental point of social changes for the African-Americans and the entire American society. This paper looks at the civil war, with a close focus on the African-Americans who took part in the war.

Black soldiers in the Civil War

The Union army was comprised of independent African-Americans. This army was also braced with some of the African-Americans who had escaped from slavery in the Confederate States (Lardas, 2012). In the Confederate States, African-Americans were also forced into the war, but since they were not considered equals to the whites, they were forced to work in the support function of the army. Most of the African-Americans worked as nurses and cooks, as well as manual laborers to carry heavy loads that the white regiments required in the war (Teaching with Documents, 2015). The Civil War saw a large number of African-American men applying for enlistment in the army, and they were allowed to arm themselves for the first time in the history of America. Most of the African-Americans volunteered to become soldiers to liberate themselves economically because of the benefits that soldiers received from the government. The Bureau of colored troops looked at the matters concerning black troops, and it ensured that their rights were enforced during their service.

Roles of the African-American Soldiers

The military was a better place to be for the members of the black troops on the Union side, but it was a cruel place for African-Americans in the Confederate States (Black Civil War Soldiers, 2015). The role of the blacks on the Union side was to fight against the enemy and to protect the legacy of the Union. These African-Americans were not treated equal to the white soldiers, but they were paid by the authorities (The Importance of African-American Soldiers in Civil War, 2015). Their salaries were at least $6 less than what the whites were receiving (African-American Soldiers During the Civil War, 2015). On the Confederate side, the black soldiers were laborers (Reis, 2009). They did all the dirty and difficult work for the white troops. The blacks were unarmed slaves; hence, their roles included cooking for the troops, fetching water, transporting heavy luggage, and nursing the wounded soldiers (History of the Colored Troops in the American Civil War, 2015). The majority of these African-Americans were forced to take part in these roles. The Confederates made the blacks running their camps, and they did not allow them to handle guns. The Union, on the other hand, used some of the black soldiers as spies (Walbridge, 2000). They also placed in strategic areas to guard camps and bridges. By 1864, the Confederates were in dire need of more blacks in the troops, and the administration passed a law that promised freedom to the enlisted African-Americans.

Slavery and the Fight for Freedom

Black soldiers could enlist following the development of the Second Confiscation and Militia act of 1982. The majority of the volunteers were looking for financial liberation, but the main motivating factor was the hope of becoming full citizens of the Union side (Williams, 2014). The civil war saw the black Americans enjoy some freedom, but it was short lived. After joining the troops, the blacks were not commissioned into leadership roles (Coddington, 2012). This means that the commanders of the black troops were always white soldiers. White commanders had a low opinion of their black subjects, and they failed to train some of the troops adequately (The Civil War, 2015). It was also apparent that the captured African-American soldiers were treated harshly by both sides of the war. The Confederates turned the captured African-Americans into slaves, whereas the Union soldiers the black soldiers were imprisoned and treated inhumanely (Smith, 2004).


The Civil War provided a platform for the blacks and whites in America to undertake a similar course in the fight for superiority against their respective enemy. The Union side provided an opportunity for the blacks to volunteer in the war, and it also compensated them well. This was an opportunity for the financial liberation of the blacks, and it also presented the possibility of becoming full citizens of the Union. The Confederates had a different approach in handling the blacks. The African-Americans on the Confederate side were confined to work in the camps. The blacks were rarely treated equal to the whites. Segregation was still present in the troops, despite the soldiers fighting against mutual enemies from the respective sides.


African-American Soldiers During the Civil War. (2015). 

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Black Civil War Soldiers. (2015). Web.

Coddington, R. S. (2012). African-American Faces of the Civil War: An Album. Maryland: JHU Press.

History of the Colored Troops in the American Civil War. (2015). Web.

Lardas, M. (2012). African-American Soldier in the Civil War: USCT 1862-66. Oxford: Osprey Publishing.

Reis, R. A. (2009). African-Americans and the Civil War. New York: Infobase Publishing.

Smith, J. D. (2004). Black Soldiers in Blue: African-American Troops in the Civil War Era. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press.

Teaching with Documents: The Fight for Equal Rights: Black Soldiers in the Civil War. (2015). Web.

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The Civil War. (2015). Web.

The Importance of African-American Soldiers in Civil War. (2015). Web.

Walbridge, M. (2000). African-American Heroes of the Civil War. Portland: Walch Publishing.

Williams, D. (2014). I Freed Myself: African-American Self-Emancipation in the Civil War Era. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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