Blacks and the Civil War

This page discusses the enlistment and contributions of Black troops in the army and the experiences of Blacks as slaves and free Blacks. Contents of this page: History of the Colored Regiments; Abolitionists; [[ Douglass|Frederick Douglass]]; [[ Troops|Black Troops]]; Slavery; [[ Statistics|Soldier Statistics]]; [[ Railroad|Underground Railroad]]; [[ Fugitive Slave Act|The Fugitive Slave Act]].

History of Colored Regiments

  • After the Emancipation Proclamation, 180,000 African Americans enlisted in the Civil War. These enlistees consisted of both runaway slaves and free African Americans who enlisted mostly in the Union army.
  • Many white soldiers thought black men lacked the courage to fight.
  • In October of 1862, the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers silenced them by attacking the Confederate army.
  • On May 27, 1863, the Battle of Port Hudson took place. Although this battle failed, it proved the colored soldier's courage during battle.
  • On July 17, 1863, the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers, under General Douglass Cooper, fought for 2 hours against the Confederates under General James Blunt, and the Confederates retreated and then ran away.
  • By August of 1863, 14 colored regiments had been organized and were in the field, prepared for battle.
  • The most famous battle of the colored regiments was the battle of Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863 where William Carney of the 54th Mass. would not give up his flag, no matter what happened. See also: Troops|Black Troops
  • The most heroic battle was the Battle of New Market Heights on September 29, 1864. During this battle, the regiment was pinned for 30 minutes before running up the heights. After one hour, there was a tremendous amount of casualties. In fact, of the 16 African Americans who received a Medal of Honor in the Civil War, 14 of them were earned during this battle.
  • During the Battle of Fort Pillow on April 12, 1864, 292 black soldiers were attacked along with 285 white soldiers. After the battle, only 62 black soldiers remained.
  • Even after proving that they fighted equally, the colored regiments were still discriminated.
  • The Militia Act of 1862 allowed African American Soldiers to receive $10 per month adn $3.50 for clothing
  • On June 15, 1864, Congress granted equal pay for all soldiers.
  • In January of 1864, the South proposed that they should arm the slaves, and they would receive freedom in return. This was not carried out...
  • In the Fall of 1864, the South was losing ground... On March 13, tjhe Confederate Congress passed the General Order 14 (issued March 23)
    • Very few African American companies were raised, but the war ended before they could fight


  • Abolitionists were people who wanted to end slavery
  • Their efforts were opposed by Southern plantation owners
  • They wanted to make everyone think about the sin of slavery
  • In 1833 abolitionists formed American Anti-Slavery Society
  • By 1835, it was connected through state and local socities
  • Most Abolitionists lived in the Union (North) but those who lived in the south were very unpopular around the Confederates

Frederick Douglass

  • He learned to read and write by one of his owners
  • He was a former slave
  • He became a wonderful spokesman for all African Americans
  • Born a slave in Maryland
  • Father was white
  • Father may have been his master at some piont
  • He was once about to be beaten by one of his masters, so Douglass fought back. The master didnt beat him
  • He eventually escaped to the North

Black troops

  • Many blacks fought in the Civil War for the North, because they were offered freedom and the South kept them for slaves.
  • From the beginning of the war, Black Americans engaged in the fighting, although Lincoln at first refused officially to employ them in the Union Army. Official enlistment of black troops didn't happen until after the Emancipation Proclamation, which was announced in September 1862 but it was not an official government policy until January 1863. Congress had passed two acts in the summer of 1862, permitting the enlistment of blacks in the Union Army.
  • The Massachusetts 54th Regiment was among the first regiments with black soldiers in it although it was commanded by white officers.
  • The 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry led the attack on Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863. Among these soldiers was William Carney. During childhood, Carney grew up as a slave, but he was able to sneak to a secret school where he learned to read and write. When his master died, Carney was emancipated, and he enlisted in the army. Because his regiment, along with many of the other colored regiments, hadn't fought in the war, he was anxious to receive his orders. General John Wall, who was holding the flag and leading the advancement, was shot. As the flag began to fall, William Carney dropped his rifle and grabbed the flag before it touched the ground. He was then shot in the leg, but he continued to lead the advancement despite the pain in his leg. William Carney, with his fellow soldiers either wounded or dead, was the only survivor. The Confederate army attacked him, but he didn't flee. Instead, Carney wrapped his flag around the staff and began to trudge through chest-deep water. He was then shot in the chest, right arm, and his right leg, but William Carney didn't drop his flag. Even when a member of the 100th New York regiment offered to carry the flag for him, Carney simply responded, " No one but a member of the 54th should carry the colors. And later, when he returned to camp, before Carney collapsed from his wounds, he told the soldiers, "Boys, I only did my duty. The flag never touched the ground." He recieved the Medal of Honor.
  • Blacks in the Confederate army did most of the hard work, like cooking and building trenches for other soliders.
  • When the Emancipation Proclomantion came out, many Confederate black soliders escaped to be on the Union side because they realized the Union victory would mean their freedom.
  • Many white people thought blacks were inferior to them. After the war, they started to realize that was not true.


  • The conditions that the slaves had to work under were terrible. When they were first brought to the cotton mills, they had to collect as much cotton as they could carry. Every day after that, they have to collect at least that amount. If they do not, they are beaten!
  • Many slave owners would purposely split families up so that they couldn't plan to run away.

The Emancipation Proclamation

  • The Emancipation Proclamation was made by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. In this document, he stated that sof January 1, 1863, all slaves held in states "in rebellion against the United States" would be "forever free."
  • In the beginning, Lincoln was unsure whether or not he should use his presidential power to abolish slavery.
  • Finally, in the spring of 1862, he decided to write a proclamation that would abolish slavery in the South. The war had not been going well, and the abolishment of slavery would not hinder the effort of the Union armies, but there was a possibility it might help the Union armies.
  • The Confederates, naturally, ignored the statements made by President Lincoln and the government. It did not go into effect until the Union army had their victory and finally, the four million slaves of the South were free.

Soldier Statistics

  • The Civil War had nearly 1,100,000 causalities and 620,000 deaths total.
  • African Americans made up 10% of the Union army's casualties.
  • 1/3 of the African American enlistees died during the Civil War.

Underground Railroad

  • The Underground Railroad was active the most in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania
  • An estimate of the number of slaves helped by the Underground Railroad is 50,000-100,000
  • Mostly it was free northern blacks that planned the Underground Railroad and helped slaves escape
  • There were secret efforts made by Northerners to help escaped slaves find a safe place to stay
  • Because the Fugitive Slave Law allowed owners to get their slaves back of they escaped, it was harder for slaves and people working with the Underground Railroad
  • Slaves would make the trip to free states where they would receive a map that would guide them along the Underground Railroad
  • There were "stations" along the Underground Railroad that provided food and shelter
  • The McAllister Mill was an important station in the Underground Railroad
  • It was only a day's walk from Maryland (a slave state) and sometimes slaves could easily lose the people chasing them
  • The pursuit of escaped slaves in Pennsylvania was not popular but some people believed that opposing the law constituted civil disobedience. Kennett Square, Pennsylvania was very close to the Mason-Dixon line and harbored many fugitives on the Underground Railroad.
  • See if you can escape on the Underground Railroad.

The Fugitive Slave Act

  • The Fugitive Slave Act was put into law in 1793.
  • Although slaveholders had legal means to retrieve their runaway slaves, these measures(Fugitive Slave Act) were disapproved of in the North.
  • The Fugitive Slave Act said that if your slave ran away then as the owner of the slave you may go and retreave him/her
  • Many slaves tried to escape to the North because many in the North didn't believe in owning slaves
  • The Fugitive Slave Act also made it a federal crime to aid fugitive slaves or withhold support for their capture
  • This tilted the balance of power to slaveholders
  • A federal commissioner deciding on a slave catcher's claim would receive ten dollars if the runaway was returned to slavery
  • Supporters of the law said that more money was necessary for the extra paperwork involved, but opponents called it bribery
  • During the 1850s, the law was responsible for sending more than three hundred black northerners to the South