Associate Professor of History, University of Maryland
About the Seminar
From the beginning of the Civil War, blacks served the Union army as laborers, teamsters, cooks, laundresses, hospital attendants, and personal servants but not as soldiers. When the War broke out, they volunteered to fight. Yet whites, knowing that blacks saw participation in the War as a step toward racial equality, flatly rejected their help in battle. Only when the War ground to a stalemate and casualties rose as enlistments fell did the Union turn to what Frederick Douglass called “the iron arm of the black man.”
Ultimately, nearly 200,000 African Americans served in the Union Army and Navy. What impact did they have on the War, and what impact did the War have on them? And what of the enslaved? Did they strike at the Confederacy to win their freedom, or were they merely the passive beneficiaries of the Union victory?
Competency Goal 3, Objective 3.03: Identify political and military turning points of the Civil War and assess their significance to the outcome of the conflict.
Suggested Additional Resources
- The Negro as Soldier
- Address by Daniel Ullmann, Before the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Union of the State of New York
- The Negro as Soldier in the War of Rebellion
- Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Senator Charles Sumner
- Photographs of African-American Soldiers in the Civil War
- John Wesley Dobbs describes African Americans in the Civil War
- Union sergeant, letter of Lewis Douglass
- Mother of a Union soldier, letter to President Lincoln
- Teenaged Confederate aide, narrative of Jacob Stroyer (PDF)
- Portrait photographs 1861–1865
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- Chronology of emancipation during the Civil War, with links to major laws, proclamations, etc.
- Maryland Fugitive Slave to His Wife
- WPA interview with ex-slave Mary Barbour
- Testimony by a Georgia Freedman before the Southern Claims Commission
- Headquarters of the Defenses North of the Potomac to the Commander of a New York Regiment
- Former Superintendent of the Poor in the Department of North Carolina to the Chairman of the American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission
- Headquarters of a Confederate Cavalry Battalion to the Headquarters of the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana
- Commander of a Black Brigade to the Commander of the District of Eastern Virginia
- Testimony by the Superintendent of Contrabands at Fortress Monroe, Virginia, before the American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission
- African American Military Laborers and Soldiers in the Civil War (PDF). Read the selections by Boston Blackwell, Albert Jones, Bill Simms, Tines Kendrick, and Martin Jackson.
- Six photographs of African American military laborers and soldiers in the Civil War
- Commander of the District of Northeastern Louisiana to the Headquarters of the Department of the Tennessee
- Superintendent of the Organization of Kentucky Black Troops to the Adjutant General of the Army
- Affidavit of a Kentucky Black Soldier's Widow
- Black Residents of Nashville to the Union Convention
- Testimony by a South Carolina Freedman before the Southern Claims Commission
- Escaped Union Prisoners of War to the Provost Marshal General of the Department of the South
- Testimony by a Georgia Freedwoman before the Southern Claims Commission
- Missouri Black Soldier to His Daughters, and to the Owner of One of the Daughters
Suggested Additional Resources
- Ira Berlin, Barbara J. Fields, Steven F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland, eds., Slaves No More: Three Essays on Emancipation and the Civil War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992)
- Leon Litwack, Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery (New York: Random House, 1979), chapters 1–3
- Published documentary collections:
- Ira Berlin, Barbara J. Fields, Steven F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland, eds., Free at Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War (New York: The New Press, 1992)
- Ira Berlin, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland, eds., Freedom’s Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998)