Northern Black Soldiers
Also known as Yankee black soldiers or colored troops, a northern black soldier fought during the Civil War (1861-1865) for the Union. The Union was fighting to stop the expansion of slavery against the Confederacy who wanted to continue slavery and Northern black soldiers fought to free their brethren and abolish slavery.
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Background
The Civil War has always been portrayed as a white mans fight, but that is not entirely true. Black soldiers took part in the war, though little is known about them. At the start of the Civil War in 1861 black free men were not allowed to join the Union Army, though some did anyway. Racism was still rampant in the North and the blacks were told there was no place for them in the conflict. Blacks were allowed in the Navy, however, because they had been working on naval vessels long before the war. Then in 1863 the Union found themselves short of troops and President Abraham Lincoln officially began allowing black men to enlist. If there were objections to allowing blacks in the army it was noted that it was better for a black soldier to die than a white soldier. President Lincoln himself said that "whatever Negroes could be got to do as soldiers leaves just so much less for white soldiers to do." There were around 170,000 black Union soldiers during the Civil War. They made up an estimated 11 percent of the Union Army and 25 percent of the Navy. The Union Army also had 14 black chaplains. Three thousand black soldiers died during the Civil War both on the battlefield and in POW camps. In the end, the U.S. ignored the black soldiers sacrifice and in the North and South patriotism grew and rejected the pride of the black soldiers who died for the nation.


Black Soldiers Army Life
In the Union Army black soldiers had the same tents and camp layout as the white soldiers. Black soldiers, however, were not paid the same as white soldiers. They received only $7 a month in wages compared to the white soldiers who received $13 a month plus clothing. The first Negro leader of a Union Army regiment Frederick Douglass asked President Lincoln for the reason why black soldiers were payed less than the whites. President Lincoln skirted around the question claiming that Negroes should be glad to serve at all since they had more to fight for than any of the white men. In June of 1864 Congress finally passed an act that equalized the pay of black and white soldiers. Black soldiers were also often given weapons that were of lower quality and they usually had to do the hard manual labor while the white men fought in the field.
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This picture illustrates the white officer over the black soldiers.

Black soldiers were never promoted in the army the same as the whites and the Massachusettes 54th and 55th regiment is just one example of a regiment that would only accept white soldiers. It was said by the South that Northern black soldiers lacked the education and reading skills it took to lead a regiment. By the end of the war only 1 in 2000 blacks ever received officer rank and only then by becoming an army chaplain or doctor. Although unequal in some ways, black soldiers "felt the full responsibility of their mission [and] they were in the South to do, to dare and to die," according to Alexander Newton a soldier who fought with a black regiment based out of Connecticut. In fact, 13 black soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their valor in a battle at Chaffin's Farm, Virginia and many black soldiers are buried in national cemeteries. General Butler, an officer of colored troops he deemed heroic, created a special medal for the black soldiers as a reward. The medals were not officially recognized by the U.S. Army and the 300 troops who received them were not allowed to wear them on their uniform.
Obverse, US Civil War Medal (Smithsonian Institution)
Obverse, US Civil War Medal (Smithsonian Institution)

Medal commissioned by General Butler in honor of the colored troops.

Black Soldiers Reasons for Fighting
Blacks entered the army believing it would offer them short-term glory, but long-term acceptance. Blacks saw the war as a way to return to the vision the founders created in the Declaration of Independence. Whites did not receive these new soldiers well. They became against the idea of emancipation and believed the blacks would not be effective soldiers. This attitude changed when black regiments saw successes on the battlefield.

The Civil War had many famous black regiments. The 54th was the most famous regiment in the North. In an attack on Fort Wagner this regiment lost nearly half of its men and held the ground gained for less than an hour, but the regiment earned respect based on their bravery and fighting skills. This regiment became a leader for future colored troops in the Civil War. Historian William Gladstone claims that the black soldiers of Connecticut were "hailed as heroes." The Civil War also boasted the 25th corps. This is the only all-black army corps in the history of America.

Escaped slaves from the south also joined the Union Colored Troops. The Union didn't know what to do with the fugitive slaves in the beginning, but eventually on August 6, 1861 they were declared contraband of war because their work had helped the Confederacy and they were considered free.

Northern Black Soldiers and Illness
Black Soldiers received low quality care compared to their white comrades. It was very hard to find doctors who would work with the blacks. The Black soldiers themselves were new to fighting and had very little immunity to diseases of war. Even the whites assumed that blacks were not as susceptible to diseases as them and because of this added to the problem with their misconceptions. Around 18% of black soldiers died of disease in service versus 8% of white soldiers. Roughly 10 out of every 11 deaths of a black soldier was due to disease.

Poll about Northern Black Soldiers

Poll Questions
  1. of people asked
Yes
No
1.
Do you know anything about Northern black soldier’s role in the Civil War?
37
23%
77%
2.
Do you believe that black soldiers should’ve received the same pay as the white soldiers?
37
100%
0%
3.
Do you agree that black soldiers should’ve been grateful for the money they received because “they had more to fight for?”
37
5%
95%
4.
Do you believe black soldiers should have received the same quality of weapons as the white soldiers even when there was a shortage in weapons?
37
85%
15%
5.
Do you believe the U.S. should do more today to honor the memory of the black soldiers in the Civil War?
37
90%
10%

Significance of the Topic
This topic was significant to society during the Civil War because the war was fought over the issue of slavery. The Northern states did not allow slavery, but the Southern states did allow it. This division was mainly based on economics. The south needed slaves to work their labor intensive crops like cotton and tobacco, but the north didn't need slaves for their grain crops. These differences began to divide the nation and when Abraham Lincoln ran for President in 1860 he campaigned against slavery expansion. The south didn't like this, so 7 states seceded from the Union and the war began soon after. Northern black soldiers had a lot to fight for in the war and they helped contribute to the Unions win.

It is important that Americans understand the role blacks played in the war and the importance of remembering their sacrifice. They are a part of American history and should be reocognized. A good citizen of the U.S. understands that all history should be known, even if it doesn't paint past America in a good light. Black soldiers played a significant role in the Civil War and consequently influenced the ideals we hold today.

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