The Civil War in Primary Resources: An Exhibition by the Special Collections Library


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The Federal Militia Acts of 1792 banned Black men from military service. While many wanted to fight for their freedom, Lincoln feared that allowing their recruitment would incite border states to rebellion. However, voluntary enlistment from whites waned as the war progressed, and the Union Army needed recruits. The Emancipation Proclamation, which freed all enslaved persons in rebelling states, also allowed Black men to join the army.

Black men comprised roughly 10 percent of the Union Army, and Black women supported the army with services like laundry and nursing. Despite their contributions, they faced racial prejudice within the ranks. Black soldiers did not receive enlistment bonuses, equal pay, or officer commissions, and they were often assigned to segregated regiments.

In the face of discrimination, Black soldiers distinguished themselves in the military. In 1864, they won their battle for equal pay, and in 1865 they could serve as commissioned officers. Their ardent participation in the Union Army affected the attitudes of fellow white soldiers, some of whom emerged from the Civil War with higher opinions of their brothers-in-arms.


U.S. Civil War 1861-1865, African Americans, Blacks


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