Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Remembering Civil War African American Soldiers and Sailors

I have read newspaper accounts about the lack of interest and resentment of African Americans about the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Many associate the Confederate flag as a symbol of the slave-South. Others see the flag as a badge worn by racists and hate groups. However, African Americans who associate the Sesquicentennial with racism miss two extremely important points.

The Civil War ended slavery as a tolerated practice in the United States. That should be an accomplishment honored by all Americans. There is nothing redeeming in that "peculiar institution." African Americans should look to the war as the first step on their road to freedom and equality. The Confederate flag should be a reminder of the oppression suffered by their ancestors over 150 years ago. It should serve to remind all Americans of the battles we have fought to bring democracy to the world --- whether at Antietam or in Afghanistan.

My second point is that many African Americans are unaware of the contributions made by Black soldiers to preserve the Union. We should honor these brave men who fought and died for their freedom. Over 186,000 African Americans comprised 163 units amounting to 10% of the Union Army. By the end of the Civil War, roughly 179,000 black men (10% of the Union Army) served as soldiers in the U.S. Army, and another 19,000 served in the Navy. The soldiers fought in segregated units designated as United States Colored Troops (USCT). More than 20% died during the conflict. Sixteen black soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their valor.

Following the Emancipation Proclamation, blacks were recruited for the Union Army. Volunteers from South Carolina, Tennessee, and Massachusetts composed the first authorized black regiments. African American leaders like Frederick Douglas encouraged blacks to enlist. USCT fought in many of the war's most pivotal battles: Appomattox Court House, VA - April 9, 1865, Fort Blakely, AL - April 2-9, 1865, Crater, VA - July 30, 1864, Fort Fisher, NC - January 13-15, 1865, Fort Wagner, Morris Island - July 18-September 7, 1863, Nashville, TN - December 15-16, 1864, and Port Hudson, LA - May 21-July 9, 1863.

I hope that African Americans will embrace the heroism of these soldiers and sailors and honor them as we celebrate this 150th Anniversary. Let us recall the words of Frederick Douglas: "Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship."

Please see The African American Soldier: The Fight for Respect to learn more.


SF said...

As an African American, I most certainly agree with the points you make in this article. Even so, I would love to see more black representation in Civil War reenactments. What a potentially wonderful way to learn about, for example, the Cincinnati Black Brigade or the 54th of Massachusetts.

Civil War Traveler said...

I share your opinion. So many people don't know about these units. Another issue I have is about Juneteeth. Although the event has Texas roots, it is barely touched upon in our schools. Another thing that bugs me is the lack of African American monuments at NPS battlefields. We need more tribtes to these American heroes.

Allen Mesch said...

I believe that American Americans need to alter their perspective on the Civil War. Many associate the war with slavery and not a victory in the ongoing battle toward equality. I believe that schools should devote more time in their Civil War studies to the role that black soldiers played in winning the war.
I also agree with the lack of Civil War monuments at NPS battlefields. There is a monument at Vicksburg and tributes at Corinth. I would suggest visiting Corinth and the contraband camp outside of town as well as the slave market.
As to Juneteenth, it is ridiculous that Texas students especially don't know about this holiday.