Black people from both the North and the South participated in the Civil War in a variety of ways. Free blacks from the North tried to join the fight as soldiers from the earliest days of the conflict. These men not only wanted to help free the slaves in the South, but also felt that they could improve their chances of gaining equal rights in American society by proving their patriotism and courage on the battlefield. But prejudice (unfair treatment because of their race) prevented blacks from enlisting in the Union Army until late 1862. It also created racial conflicts with working-class whites in many Northern cities during the war years.
In the South, black slaves performed much of the heavy work that was required to prepare the Confederacy for war. They built forts, dug trenches, hauled artillery and supplies, set up army camps, and acted as cooks and servants for Confederate soldiers. Some free blacks in the South even fought for the Confederacy in the early years of the Civil War. However, after President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves in 1863, Southern blacks increasingly realized what a Union
Words to Know
Civil War conflict that took place from 1861 to 1865 between the Northern states (Union) and the Southern seceded states (Confederacy); also known in the South as the War between the States and in the North as the War of the Rebellion
Confederacy eleven Southern states that seceded from the United States in 1860 and 1861
Discrimination unfair treatment of people or groups because of their race, religion, gender, or other reasons
Emancipation the act of freeing people from slavery or oppression
Union Northern states that remained loyal to the United States during the Civil War victory would mean for them. Thousands of slaves escaped and took refuge behind Union lines, and many of those who remained in the Confederacy stopped cooperating with Southern whites. Some Southern blacks even aided the Union cause by destroying Confederate property, spying on troop movements, or helping Union prisoners escape.
When black Americans were finally allowed to join the Union Army in 1862, they still faced discrim ination. For example, they received lower wages than white soldiers who held the same rank, they did more than their fair share of heavy labor, and they were not allowed to become officers. Despite these problems, more than two hundred thousand black men fought bravely for the Union. Their courage and determination on the battlefield earned the respect of many white Americans and helped the North win the Civil War. As a result, black Americans were able to break down many barriers of discrimination after the war ended.
Was this article helpful?