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Throughout the early years of the development of the United States, the outright discrimination and prejudice directed against African American men, women, and children unfortunately became widely accepted, specifically in the southern regions of the country. Even in today’s society, in the 21st century, instances of racism and hatred towards people of color are still prevalent. Despite over 200 years of growth and progress, many individuals in the United States still hold true to the beliefs that were consistent with racists and bigots of the pre-Civil War era. African Americans continue to experience the same trials and judgment that many other people of color suffered through in the years of slavery and oppression of the 19th century. However, the latter portion of the 1800s saw a change in attitudes and an acceptance of African Americans that had been unprecedented. The Civil War was a turning point in American history which allowed African Americans to serve in the Union Army while slavery would come to be abolished in 1863. The tens of thousands of African Americans who served the Union in the Army and Navy played an immensely significant role in the success of the Union throughout the duration of the war. Often times, people of color and the support that they offered for their country go unnoticed due to the fact that racism and oppression overshadowed their recognition.

The idea of this paper is to shine a light on the successes and accomplishments of the African American soldiers who served for the Union in the Civil War and how the lack of this support could have altered the outcome of the war entirely. Many high schools, or even undergraduate, history courses tend to ignore the influence of these people of color throughout the Civil War. Their representation in the Union goes overlooked, and many students are unaware that they made up a significant percentage of the soldiers who enlisted. Many educators will focus on the main events while ignoring the fact that roughly ten percent of the Union Army consisted of African Americans. Any Civil War historians or connoisseurs should absolutely emphasize the effect of this ten percent, and not doing so would be a dishonor to those that served their country during these trying times.

While the Civil War is a widely discussed and researched topic across the country, the role of African Americans in the Union Army is somewhat disregarded in that the research and inquiry are not nearly as extensive as many other aspects of the war. While battles, leaders, causes, and effects tend to lead the conversation surrounding the war, many of those who served are often omitted, specifically people of color. Journal entries, diaries, letters written to loved ones, manuscripts, military records, and other primary sources will be used to enhance the understanding of the lives and daily encounters African American soldiers faced in a time where the country was at war with itself over the rights of these people. These personal accounts will give a deeper insight into what it was like to serve in the Union Army and Navy as a person of color. Whether they were recently freed slaves from the south or northerners choosing to fight for the Union, these sources will allow readers to gain certain knowledge beyond simply the names or occupations of these soldiers. Understanding the daily struggles and efforts of African Americans in the army through primary sources will only enhance the overall narrative of the Civil War while emphasizing a subject that many have little to no comprehension of the importance of people of color that served in the Union army.

This paper will serve as a continuation of the existing narratives and experiences while hoping to provide a more thorough level of knowledge and insight into the lives of these soldiers. Many resources provide adequate information and facts about the soldiers who served in this war; however, more research should be done regarding the accomplishments and impact of African Americans during this time period. During a time where white volunteers began to dwindle, and numbers of those enlisting slowly decreased, tens of thousands of African Americans stepped up and offered their lives for a country that had long disrespected people of color and deprived them of basic human rights. They put aside personal interests and beliefs and fought for the greater good of the country. This paper looks to show the struggles of these soldiers and their role in the war. Expanding this perspective will allow readers and other historians to gain a new knowledge of the achievements of these soldiers, why they decided to serve a divided country, and how the lack of their support could have possibly been detrimental not only to the Union Army, but to the future of the United States and the values on which this country reflects today.


This paper was presented as part of the History Research Seminar (HIST 4603) taught by Dr. Myra Houser.

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