The Fight for Equal Rights Black Soldiers in the Civil War

The

Fight for Equal Rights Black Soldiers in the Civil War

Black soldiers were among the bravest of
those fighting in the Civil War. Both free Blacks in the Union army and
escaped slaves from the South rushed to fight for their freedom and they
fought with distinction in many major Civil War battles. Many whites thought

Blacks could not be soldiers. They were slaves. They were inferior. Many
thought that if Blacks could fight in the war it would make them equal
to whites and prove the theory of slavery was wrong. Even though Black
soldiers had to face much discrimination during the Civil War, they were
willing to fight to the death for their freedom.

Both free Blacks and slaves wanted to fight
in the Civil War and volunteered from the start. The free Blacks wanted
to prove their equality and help the slaves win their freedom. There was
much opposition from whites, because many thought that the Blacks were
biologically inferior and could not be trusted with weapons. They thought
arming them would cause the slaves to rebel, and because the war was supposed
to be very short it would not be necessary. Also, a federal law dating
back to 1792 stated Blacks could not fight in the United States Army. Abolitionists,
those in the north who fought for Black rights, argued that Blacks had
fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. They had greatly strengthened
those armies, so they should be able to fight in the Civil War as well.

Abolitionists also thought it would teach the Blacks responsibility and
self-reliance which they would need after the war.

On July 17, 1862 Congress passed two acts
allowing enlistment of Blacks in the Army, but they were ignored. The War

Department still turned Blacks away when they tried to sign up to fight.

Then in September of 1862, Abraham Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation
which declared, "slaves within any State, or designated part of a State
... then ... in rebellion ... shall be then, thenceforth and free forever" (Knight,

Carson, 1997, 1). This law liberated about 3,120,000 Blacks. After this
law Blacks were finally able to enlist in Union armies.

When Blacks began to fight many whites
realized that it was for the better. Recruitment of whites had become difficult
and after Blacks were allowed to enlist not as many white men would have
to enlist. Soon, private agents, the federal government, and northern states
had to compete for Black recruits. The government sent General Lorenzo

Thomas to the Mississippi Valley to organize Black troops and in less than
three months he raised more than twenty regiments of Black soldiers.

Blacks took part in 499 military engagements,
thirty-nine of which were major battles. In each one of those battles they
served with great distinction and proved they could serve their country
well. Seventeen Blacks were awarded the Medal of Honor, a prestigious award.

One of the most well known battles fought by Black soldiers was at Fort

Wagner in South Carolina on July 18, 1863. The Massachusetts 54th Regiment,
commanded by abolitionist Robert Gould Shaw, was ambushed by Confederate
forces while trying to attack the strong Confederate fortress on Morris

Island. The Massachusetts 54th fought gallantly but the Union forces fell
back with heavy casualties, and 1,515 men were killed, wounded, or missing.

The Battle of Port Hudson, the last remaining

Confederate fort on the lower part of the Mississippi River was another
such battle. On May 27, 1863 Confederate forces had twenty siege guns and
thirty pieces of artillery, a major threat to the Union warships. Five

Black Louisiana regiments assaulted Port Hudson and were met with a rain
of bullets. The Black troops kept fighting until almost all of them were
dead. The losses were severe. The Union lost the battle but no one questioned
the bravery of the Black troops. Because of this, Union Army Blacks fought
with a greater sense of purpose and a better morale.

Though Black soldiers in the Army fought
as bravely as the white soldiers, they were often discriminated against.

Their enlistment period was longer, they were given old weapons, their
pay was lower, and they had little chance of promotion. Many didn\'t survive
because of the poor medical care they were given. If Blacks were wounded
they were carried off the battlefield as an afterthought, and if they did
arrive at a hospital alive they would receive slow and inadequate care.

Also, if captured by Confederate troops, a Black soldier would be immediately
executed or sold into slavery.

While the Army did not allow