At the start of the American Civil War (1861-1865), most white Americans in the North were not willing to fight to end Southern slavery. They fought instead to preserve the Union and prevent slavery from spreading into the Western territories. Many opposed expanding slave territory because they believed that slaves were unfair competition to free labor.
Many Southerners fought to protect and expand slavery because they believed that limiting slavery would lead to its destruction. Even most Southerners who did not own slaves considered slavery the essential foundation of ‘the Southern way of life.’ ‘This country without slave labor would be completely worthless,’ one soldier from Mississippi argued. Even though most owned no slaves, they would ‘fight forever,’ an Alabama soldier vowed, ‘rather than submit to freeing Negroes among us.’
African Americans hoped the Civil War would bring about the abolition of slavery. In anticipation, they formed military units in many Northern cities in the 1850s.
War finally came in the spring of 1861, and eleven Southern states seceded from the Union and formed their own nation, the Confederate States of America (or Confederacy). The black military units offered their service to the United States, but the federal government initially refused to accept African American troops. Lincoln feared that doing so would encourage the slaveholding border states to join the Confederacy. As casualties mounted during 1862, however, U.S. military commanders sometimes recruited black soldiers without explicit authority. Finally in July 1862 Congress gave the president authority to use black troops.
In the South slave labor on farms and in factories freed more whites to fight in the war. The slaves, however, demonstrated their desire for freedom by escaping from Confederate plantations by the tens of thousands. In the beginning of the war, some Northern commanders returned slaves to their masters, and others forced escapees to work for the U.S. Army. Then, on January 1, 1863, Lincoln turned U.S. war aims toward slavery’s destruction by issuing his Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves held by those Southerners still in rebellion.
During the war, African American soldiers who served in the Union Army were paid less than white soldiers and suffered racist treatment. Confederates declared they would not treat captured black soldiers and their white officers as legitimate prisoners of war. Instead they threatened to treat captured black soldiers as runaway slaves and to execute their white officers. At Fort Pillow, Tennessee, Confederate forces commanded by Nathan Bedford Forrest later an organizer of the Ku Klux Klan, murdered hundreds of captured black soldiers in 1864. ‘Remember Fort Pillow’ became a rallying cry for black soldiers who became more determined to defeat the Confederacy.
By the end of the war, the United States had depended on the services of over 200,000 black soldiers and sailors, 24 of whom received the Medal of Honor.
In April 1865 the Union defeated the Confederacy, and slavery came to an end. President Lincoln acknowledged the critical role black troops had played in winning the war. A few days later, on April 15, Lincoln was assassinated, and Vice-President Andrew Johnson of Tennessee became president. In December of that year the states ratified the 13th amendment that formally abolished slavery. However, the U.S. victory and the end of slavery did not bring complete freedom to Southern blacks. Instead, the process of rebuilding the Union, known as Reconstruction, began.
- African American History: American Revolution (The Concentration of Slavery in the South) (egrejeen.wordpress.com)
- African American History: American Revolution (The Ideals of the Revolution) (egrejeen.wordpress.com)
- African American History: Early Abolitionist Efforts (egrejeen.wordpress.com)
- African American History: Black Culture in the Early 20th Century (egrejeen.wordpress.com)