Many Northern communities wanted to raise units of black volunteers, but not all of them had large black populations. Posters were displayed throughout whole counties in hopes of raising a full hundred-man company.
The government took a census the year before the Civil War. It showed there were fewer than 500,000 "free Negroes" in the United States. But there were almost 4 million blacks held in slavery. After the war started, the U.S. Congress did not allow free blacks or escaped slaves to join the Union army. Then President Lincoln issued his final Emancipation Proclamation in January, 1863. The decree stated that all slaves living in Confederate states were to be considered free. This document encouraged Congress to pass a law allowing black men to volunteer for Union military service. Soon there were close to 200,000 blacks serving in the Northern army and navy. These men were paid less than white soldiers and were often given worn uniforms and poor equipment. They could not become officers. If they were captured, they were shot or enslaved. However, these risks did not stop black men from taking part in combat. Several black soldiers won the Union's highest award for bravery, the Medal of Honor.
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