“Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth which can deny that he has earned right to citizenship in the United States.”
- Fredrick Douglass.
"The chance is now given you to end in a day the bondage of centuries, and to rise in one bound from social degradation to the place of common equality with all other varieties of men."
- Fredrick Douglass
"There is no negro problem. The problem is whether the american people have loyalty enough, honor enough, patriotism enough, to live up to their own constitution."
- Fredrick Douglass
"I pray daily and hourly ... that so, in the end, though we meet no more on earth, we shall meet in heaven, where we shall not be parted by the demands of the cruel and unjust monster Slavery."
- raider John Copeland, written a few hours before his death
"The problem of race in America at the end of the twentieth century is not the problem of slavery. If it had been the problem of slavery, it'd have been over in 1865. But as a nation that saw itself as a Christian nation, as a nation that saw itself built on the principles of freedom, we had to tell ourselves that there was something about the slave that justified slavery. It is that justification of slavery that we are still trying to deal with, more than 100 years after the abolition of slavery."
- James Horton, historian
"Can this be a society of equality between people of different backgrounds and different colors, different races? That question is still not really answered. As long as that question still remains to agitate our country, as long as there are people who feel aggrieved because they are the descendants of slaves and they have not fully shared in the blessings of liberty that our Constitution promises to everybody, the history of slavery will be relevant to the present society. Not because we're going to relive that history, but because if we don't understand it, we will never really know how the country got to the condition it is in now, on the eve of the 21st century."
- Eric Foner, historian
"I never saw such fighting as was done by the Negro regiment....The question that negroes will fight is settled; besides they make better solders in every respect than any troops I have ever had under my command."
- General James Blunt
1861 - The Civil War began.
July 17, 1862 - Congress passed two acts allowing the enlistment of African Americans, but official enrollment occurred only after the September, 1862 issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. In general, white soldiers and officers believed that black men lacked the courage to fight and fight well.
October, 1862 - African American soldiers of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers silenced their critics by repulsing attacking Confederates at the battle of Island Mound, Missouri.
August, 1863 - 14 Negro Regiments were in the field and ready for service.
May 27, 1863 - At the battle of Port Hudson, Louisiana. The African American soldiers bravely advanced over open ground in the face of deadly artillery fire. Although the attack failed, the black soldiers proved their capability to withstand the heat of battle.
July 17, 1863 - At Honey Springs, Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, the 1st Kansas Colored fought with courage again. Union troops under General James Blunt ran into a strong Confederate force under General Douglas Cooper. After a two-hour bloody engagement, Cooper's soldiers retreated. The 1st Kansas, which had held the center of the Union line, advanced to within fifty paces of the Confederate line and exchanged fire for some twenty minutes until the Confederates broke and ran. General Blunt wrote after the battle, "I never saw such fighting as was done by the Negro regiment....The question that negroes will fight is settled; besides they make better solders in every respect than any troops I have ever had under my command."
1862 - Although black soldiers proved themselves as reputable soldiers, discrimination in pay and other areas remained widespread. According to the Militia Act of 1862, soldiers of African descent were to receive $10.00 a month, plus a clothing allowance of $3.50. Many regiments struggled for equal pay, some refusing any money until June 15, 1864, when Congress granted equal pay for all black soldiers.
1863 - Black soldiers were recruited for the Confederate Army.
July 18, 1863 - The most widely known battle fought by African Americans was the assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, by the 54th Massachusetts. The 54th volunteered to lead the assault on the strongly-fortified Confederate positions. The soldiers of the 54th scaled the fort's parapet, and were only driven back after brutal hand-to-hand combat.
1864 - 1865 - African American soldiers participated in every major campaign of 1864-1865 except Sherman's invasion of Georgia. The year 1864 was especially eventful for African American troops. On April 12, 1864, at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest led his 2,500 men against the Union-held fortification, occupied by 292 black and 285 white soldiers. After driving in the Union pickets and giving the garrison an opportunity to surrender, Forrest's men swarmed into the fort with little difficulty and drove the Federals down the river's bluff into a deadly crossfire. Casualties were high and only sixty-two of the U.S. Colored Troops survived the fight. Many accused the Confederates of perpetuating a massacre of black troops, and the controversy continues today. The battle cry for the Negro soldier east of the Mississippi River became "Remember Fort Pillow!"
The Battle of New Market Heights, Virginia (Chaffin's Farm) became one of the most heroic engagements involving African Americans. On September 29, 1864, the African American division of the Eighteenth Corps, after being pinned down by Confederate artillery fire for about 30 minutes, charged the earthworks and rushed up the slopes of the heights. During the hour-long engagement the division suffered tremendous casualties. Of the sixteen African Americans who were awarded the Medal of Honor during the Civil War, fourteen received the honor as a result of their actions at New Market Heights.
January 1864 - General Patrick Cleburne and several other Confederate officers in the Army of the Tennessee proposed using slaves as soldiers since the Union was using black troops. Cleburne recommended offering slaves their freedom if they fought and survived. Confederate President Jefferson Davis refused to consider Cleburne's proposal and forbade further discussion of the idea. The concept, however, did not die. By the fall of 1864, the South was losing more and more ground, and some believed that only by arming the slaves could defeat be averted. On March 13, the Confederate Congress passed General Order 14, and President Davis signed the order into law. The order was issued March 23, 1865, but only a few African American companies were raised, and the war ended before they could be used in battle.
1865 - After four years of fighting, and the death of 617,000 Americans, the Civil War came to a close with the surrender of the Confederate Army
NOTES / FACTS:
The end of the war marked the end of 250 years of slavery in North America and the beginning of a new era of freedom for African Americans. But the questions raised by the abolitionist movement, of whether we can live as a multi-racial society, are still with us well over a century later.
One of the most important cases ever tried in the United States was heard in St. Louis' Old Courthouse. The two trials of Dred Scott in 1847 and 1850 were the beginning of a complicated series of events which concluded with a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1857, and hastened the start of the Civil War.
It is difficult to understand today, but under the law in 1846 whether or not the Scotts were entitled to their freedom was not as important as the consideration of property rights. If slaves were indeed valuable property, like a car or an expensive home today, could they be taken away from their owners because of where the owner had taken them? In other words, if you drove your car from Missouri to Illinois, and the State of Illinois said that it was illegal to own a car in Illinois, could the authorities take the car away from you when you returned to Missouri? These were the questions being discussed in the Dred Scott case, with one major difference: your car is not human, and cannot sue you. Although few whites considered the human factor in Dred Scott's slave suit, today we acknowledge that it is wrong to hold people against their will and force them to work as people did in the days of slavery.
Fredrick Douglass saw the Civil War as the inevitable consequence of man's inhumanity to man and a necessary conflagration to break the bonds of slavery. He saw immediately that if former slaves could fully participate in the fighting, they could not be denied full citizenship in the Republic. George Luther Turner, one of the original backers of John Brown, became a major in the Union Army. He immediately turned to Douglass to help recruit "Colored" Troops.
The March issue of "Douglass Monthly" issued the well known challenge "Men of Color To Arms." Douglass recruited over one hundred free blacks from upstate New York for the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts. Among the recruits arriving at boot camp were two of Douglass' sons Lewis and Charles.
Lewis, the older son, served as the first sergeant major of the 54th and he was in the thick of the fighting at Fort Wagner where 1515 Union troops were mowed down by a blistering barrage from the Confederate stronghold. Lewis marveled that he returned unharmed from the assault.
President Lincoln sought Douglass' advise and invited him to the White House. Apparently the two men came to an immediate understanding and respect for one another. Douglass left that meeting feeling that his concerns would be addressed and he agreed to continue to do more recruiting. Douglass had one more meeting with Lincoln on behalf of the black soldiers concerning equal pay.
He felt that his advise was sincerely sought and duly considered. Nevertheless, Douglass was often frustrated by Lincoln's procrastination in issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. The Emancipation Proclamation, which went into effect on January 1, 1863, was a decisive moment in the relationship of Douglass and Lincoln. Once having been issued, the slavery system was doomed. Douglass had persuaded Lincoln to make the pronouncement, and once having done so, the course of the war and the future of the nation were profoundly changed.
On March 2, 1863, eminent abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass sent out this powerful message in his newspaper, Douglass Monthly . Titled "Men of Color, to Arms!" it urged black men to support the nation's war and the crusade to end generations of slavery. Approximately 180,000 African American soldiers took up the call to fight for the Union, comprising more than 10% of all Federal forces. Knowing that a Northern loss could mean possible reenslavement, freemen and former slaves showed dedication to their country and a commitment to the freedom of their people forever.