African-Americans in the Civil War

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The foundation for black participation in the Civil War began more than a hundred years before the outbreak of the war. Blacks in America had been in bondage since early colonial times. In 1776, when Jefferson proclaimed mankind 's inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the institution of slavery had become firmly established in America. Blacks worked in the tobacco fields of Virginia, in the rice fields of South Carolina, and toiled in small farms and shops in the North. Foner and Mahoney report in A House Divided, America in the Age of Lincoln that, "In 1776, slaves composed forty percent of the population of the colonies from Maryland south to Georgia, but well below ten percent in the colonies to the…show more content…
Lincoln thought this would both weaken the enemy and strengthen the Union. The recruitment of the blacks took laborers from the South and placed "these men in the Union army in places which otherwise must be filled with so many white men." Lincoln also felt that seeing the blacks fighting against the Confederacy would have a psychological effect upon the South. With the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, freeing the slaves, the North began recruiting black soldiers but, as reported by Batty and Parish, this was a slow recruitment at first. In the Spring of 1863 only two black regiments existed, however, this had grown to sixty by the end of 1863. By 1864 this had expanded to 80 more regiments. Jordan provides a comprehensive account of one of the first black regiments to fight for the Union Army, the 54th Massachusetts Colored Regiment that numbered at least 1,000 soldiers. This all-volunteer regiment, lead by a white colonel, Robert Gould Shaw, helped open the 22- month land and sea assault on Charleston, South Carolina. Leading an unsuccessful hand-to-hand attack on Fort Wagner in Charleston, this regiment engaged in one of the most famous black actions of the Civil War and suffered approximately 44 percent casualties, including Colonel Shaw.

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