During the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and part of the

Nineteenth Century the White people of North America used the
Black people of Africa as slaves to benefit their interests. White
people created a climate of superiority of their race over the Black
African race that in some places, still lingers on today. The
American Civil War however, was a key turning point for the
Black African race. Through their actions and the political actions
of President Lincoln and his administration, Black Africans set a
presedent for their freedom, equality and liberation.

A very important aspect of Blacks proving themselves was
that of the Black Man acting as a soldier in the Civil War. During
the Civil War the official decision to use Blacks as soldiers in the
Union Army was a slow gradual process and a series of strategic
political decisions. The actual use of Blacks as soldiers in the
Union Army was completed by a series of actions the Black Man
performed that won him the respect of becoming a soldier. The
two differ in that it was to President Lincoln’s benefit to enlist
Blacks as soldiers when he did. Whereas the later was the Black
Man’s will to fight for his freedom and prove himself as an equal
human being. However, because the Black population was barred
from entering the army under a 1792 law(4) the Black Man
becoming a soldier was not officially recognized until late 1862.

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“There was strong anti-Black prejudice among most people
in the free states, and in the loyal slave states the idea of arming
the Black man was anthema”(1). This statement directly reflects the
generally held fear White people had about putting Blacks on the
fighting line of the armies in the Civil War. Whites felt that the
Civil War was a war started upon the White Man’s issues and what
possible reason would the Black Man have for wanting to fight in
this war. On the contrary The Black Man saw The Civil War as an
opportunity to win freedom and gain respect(2). Blacks in the
North who were free from slavery willingly pledged their service
to fight in the Union Army however, their allegiance was denied
by President Lincoln on political grounds. Lincoln realized that
the issue of Black soldiers would be intolerable by the public and
would not be accepted. Initially, the Union Army utilized
Northern Blacks from the free states to relieve Whites from daily
tasks that were essential to maintain the armies, thus freeing up
White soldiers for battle. As the Union Armies began to move
further into Confederate territory however, they encountered many
runaway slave Blacks. These Blacks were the ones that contributed
most to the Union effort. This was true for two reasons.

First, there were many more Blacks in the South compared to the
North, roughly four million compared to two hundred thousand.

Secondly, the Black people in the South had more at stake, once
they left the Confederate side to join The Union there was no
turning back. Not only would they be deemed as trators but
runaways as well and were likely to face death if they where
In the beginning, when Union Armies would encounter
runaway slaves they would either hold them until their owner
retrieved them or they would return these people to the proper
Confederate Officials(1). This became a major burden to the
Union. Many generals did not want to be regarded as “slave
catchers” they realized their duty to be much more. Because of this
obstacle many Commanders enlisted the runaway Blacks for their
services without the consent of the Lincoln Administration. One
instance in particular, a precedent was set that would change the
policy of using Blacks in the Union army. Brig. Gen. Benjamin
Butler had encountered several runaway slaves. When A
Confederate Officer under a flag of truce had come to retrieve the
slaves, Butler refused on the grounds that slaves used by the
Confederate Army during war was no different than the use of
machinery or any other tool to aid in their progress. Therefore, the
Slaves would be considered contraband just as any other tool
would be(2). Shortly after this precedent was set The Lincoln
Administration passed The Confiscation Act which stated that all
Blacks encountered in confederate territory were to be taken in and
used at the Commanders descretion(1). This proved to be a great
help to the Union Army while a huge blow to the Confederates.

The Union was gaining manpower in direct proportion to the
Confederates loosing it. This alone played a huge factor in the
success of the Union Armies.

Eventually the confiscation of southern slaves began to
present a problem for the Union. The amount of Blacks fleeing
from the Confederate side began to overwhelm the Union Armies.

There were so many Blacks fleeing from the Confederate side that
Union Armies soon had more people than they knew what to do
with. The Union Armies had to find a place for these people, so
consequently a decision had to be made. Many of the men and
most all of the women and children were put to use on deserted
Confederate plantations. Of coarse there was always a threat of
Confederate rebels attacking these once owned plantations and
retrieving their slaves, so the Union allocated soldiers to protect
these plantations. This proved to become a real asset for The
Union. Not only where they commandeering new land and
moving further into Confederate territory, The Union utilized this
rich land and labor to supply it’s armies with foodstuffs and other
As the use of Blacks became more commonplace in the
Union Armies their position began to evolve. Many Generals
prematurely began to use the Black Man as a soldier. Without
consent from Washington these Generals armed the Black Man and
put them into a soldiers position. This action was not supported by
Lincoln and in fact looked down upon. However, this began to
happen throughout many of the Union Armies and became so
prevalent that Lincoln could not ignore it(1). Lincoln was caught
between a rock and a hard place. On one hand the reality was
obvious that the war was not going to end and that the Union
Armies needed more man power. On the other, Lincoln knew that
the public was not ready to see the Black Man armed and used as a
soldier. Being the keen politician that Lincoln was he made a
small step towards the inevitable. Lincoln declared a “general
arming” could be used to employ the Blacks in security measures
so they could further protect the lines of the Union Armies(1).

This was the official beginning in the progression of the Black
Man to becoming a soldier in the Civil War.


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