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African Americans in the Union Army


            The Civil War Began On April 12, 1861 with the firing on Fort Sumter, and ended on April 18, 1865 with the surrender of the Confederate army.  While the Civil War is always covered, African American participation as soldiers in the Union army are not.


Barriers to Enlistment

            Because President Lincoln feared offending the Border States and northern whites, he did not allow blacks to enlist legally in the Union army until the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.  Though allowed to fight, they were placed in their own units, often headed up by white officers.


Segregation and Discrimination

            Though accepted in the Union Army, these men still had to face segregation and discrimination.  "The army was extremely reluctant to commission black officers -- only one hundred gained commissions during the war. African American soldiers were also given substandard supplies and rations. At the beginning of black enlistment, it was assumed that blacks would be kept out of direct combat, and the men were paid as laborers rather than as soldiers. Black soldiers therefore received $7 per month, plus a $3 clothing allowance, while white soldiers received $13 per month, plus $3.50 for clothes. (The Civil War and Emancipation)."  In 1864, the War Department eventually agreed to pay for African American soldiers equal to that of white soldiers.  The differences between African American soldiers and the white soldiers can be seen in the photosThese differences include status, pay, and dress.  African Americans rarely were promoted in the Union army.  This is illustrated through many political cartoons and can also be seen in a number of photosOverall, despite being allowed to fight African American men were not viewed to be on the same level as white men fighting in the army.


African American Participation in the Union Army

            African American men served in both the Union Army and Navy.  Around 180,000 African Americans made up 163 units in the Union Army.  This made up a total of about 10% of the men who were enlisted in the Union Army.  These men included both free and runaway slaves. The experiences of these men in the Union army are illustrated in first hand accounts.  Through these accounts we get the perspectives of not only free men, but also of runaway slaves.  Approximately 1/3 of these soldiers died in the war fighting for the Union Army.



            These men, though often ignored, helped the Union win the Civil War.  They were discriminated against and faced segregation, but they still fought to help the Union win the Civil War.  We can not tell what the result of the war would have been if African Americans had not fought in the war, but it is apparent that they played a significant role in fighting the war.


National Park Service:  Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System.  20 October 2009.
Company E, 4th United States Colored Infantry.  20 October 2009.
The Civil War and Emancipation.  20 October 2009.

We are teacher education candidates at the Universtiy of Texas at Austin completing our Student as Historian assignment in order to meet course requirements for Secondary Advanced Social Studies Methods.