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Essay/Term paper: From oppressed slaves to champion soldiers

Essay, term paper, research paper:  American History

Free essays available online are good but they will not follow the guidelines of your particular writing assignment. If you need a custom term paper on American History: From Oppressed Slaves To Champion Soldiers, you can hire a professional writer here to write you a high quality authentic essay. While free essays can be traced by Turnitin (plagiarism detection program), our custom written essays will pass any plagiarism test. Our writing service will save you time and grade.

"They [Black soldiers] will turn and run at the first

sight of the enemy!" (Emilio 10) This is just a small example

of the doubt and hatred that was bestowed on the African

American soldiers. However, during the war, they proved

themselves to be brave and courageous men on and off the

battlefield on many occasions. Despite deep prejudices and

harsh criticisms from the white society, these men were true

champions of patriotism. The cause of the Civil War was

tension between the North and the South. The sectional

division between the areas began in colonial times, largely

resulting from geographical differences. The South was

ideal for growing tobacco due to the warm climate and the

fertile soil. Plantations brought in black slaves from Africa

to provide most of the labor required for growing the crop.

In time, other plantation crops such as cotton, sugar cane,

indigo, and sugar beets were to thrive in the South. "By the

onset of the Civil War, 2.4 million slaves were engaged in

cotton production" (Long 16). A rural way of life that

supported an agrian economy based on slave labor was

quickly established in the South. The North, however, was

a cooler, rockier climate that would not support the

development of plantations. As a result, the North"s

economy came to depend more on trade and industry than

on agriculture. This economy supported the growth of

cities, although many lived in rural areas during the colonial

period. The sectional division between North and South

had widened enormously by the mid - 1800"s. The United

States had expanded all the way to the Pacific Ocean and

was rapidly becoming a major industrial and commercial

nation. However, industry and commerce were centered in

the North. The Northerners welcomed modernization and

the constant changes it brought to their way of life. Their

ideals included hard work, education, economic

independence, and the belief that the community had the

right and responsibility to decide whether an action was

moral or immoral. While Northerners looked forward to a

different and better future, Southerners held the present and

past dear. They enjoyed a prosperous agricultural economy

based on slave labor and wished to keep their old way of

life. By the 1800"s, northerners viewed slavery as wrong

and began a movement to end it. Even though an

antislavery minority existed in the South, most Southerners

found slavery to be highly profitable and in time came to

consider it a positive good. Such situations as the

Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act

raised tensions between the North and the South. The

Compromise of 1850 was a group of acts passed by

Congress in the hope of settling the dreaded slavery

question by satisfing both the North and South. The

Compromise allowed slavery to continue where it desired,

but the trading of slaves was prohibited in Washington DC.

New territories would have the choice to decide whether to

permit slavery or not. This act also required that the North

return escaped slaves to their owners. The

Kansas-Nebraska Act dealt with the problem of Slavery in

new territories. This Act allowed slavery in Nebraska and

Kansas. It also provided that when the people of each

territory o! rganized as a state, they could decide by

popular vote whether to permit slavery to continue. The

Dred Scott Decision, where a slave claimed freedom

because he had lived in a free state and territory for some

time, was denied his freedom. The Supreme Court

declared that no black could be a US citizen. The ruling

aroused anger in the North and showed that the conflict

over slavery was beyond judicial solutions. Another

situation was the raid at Harpers Ferry. An abolitionist

named John Brown and his followers attempted to start a

slave rebellion by seizing the federal arsenal in Harpers

Ferry, Va. Brown, however, was captured 28 hours later

by troops under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee.

Brown was convicted of treason and hanged two weeks

later. Many Southerners saw the raid as evidence of a

Northern plot to end slavery by force. During the election

of 1860, Lincoln was chosen by the Republicans as their

party candidate. The Democrats chose Douglas for their

ticket. Lincoln won all electoral votes of every free state

except New Jersey, which awarded him four of its seven

votes. He thus gained a majority of electoral votes and won

the election. However, Lincoln received less than 40 per

cent of the popular vote, almost none of which came from

the South. Southerners feared Lincoln would restrict or end

slavery. Before the 1860 presidential election, Southern

leaders had urged that the South secede from the Union if

Lincoln should win. Many Southerners favored secession

as part of the idea that the states have rights and powers

which the federal government cannot legally deny. The

supporters of states" rights held that the national

government was a league of independent states, any of

which had the right to secede. In December 1860, South

Carolina became the first state to secede. Five other states

- Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana -

followed in January 1861. In February, representatives

from the six states met in Montgomery, Ala., and

established the Confederate States of America. They

elected Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as president and

Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia as vice president. In

March, Texas joined the confederacy. Lincoln was

inaugurated two days later. In his inaugural address,

Lincoln avoided any threat of immediate force against the

South. But he stated that the Union would last forever and

that he would use the nation"s full power to hold federal

possessions in the South. One of the possessions, the

military post of Fort Sumter, lay in the harbor of

Charleston, SC. The Confederates fired on the fort on

April 12 and forced its surrender the next day. Following

the firing on Fort Sumter, Fredrick Douglass wrote a fiery

editorial Nemesis: At last our proud Republic is overtaken.

Our National Sin has found us out. The National Head is

bowed down, and our face is mantled with shame and

confusion. No foreign arm is made bare for our

chastisement. No distant monarch, offended at our freedom

and prosperity, has plotted our destruction no envious

tyrant has prepared for our necks his oppressive yoke.

Slavery has done it all. Our enemies are those of our own

household. It is civil war, the worst of all wars, that has

unveiled its savage and wrinkled front among us. During the

last twenty years and more, we have as a nation been

forging a bolt for our own national destruction, collecting

and augmenting the fuel that now threatens to wrap the

nation in its malignant and furious flames. We have sown

the wind, only to reap the whirlwind. Against argument,

against all manner of appeal and remonstrances coming up

from the warm and merciful heart of humanity, we have

gone on like the oppressors of Egypt, hardenin! g our

hearts and increasing the burdens of the American slave,

and strengthening the arm of his guilty master, till now, in

the pride of his giant power, that master is emboldened to

lift rebellious arms against the very majesty of the law, and

defy the power of the Government itself. In vain have we

plunged our souls into new and unfathomed depths of sin,

to conciliate the favor and secure the loyalty of the slave -

holding class. We have hated and persecuted the Negro

we have scourged him out of the temple of justice by the

Dred Scott decision we have shot and hanged his friends at

Harper"s Ferry we have enacted laws for his further

degradation, and even to expel him from the borders of

some of our States we have joined in the infernal chase to

hunt him down like a beast, and fling him into the hell of

slavery we have repealed and trampled upon laws designed

to prevent the spread of slavery and in a thousand ways

given to increase the power and ascendancy of slavery !

over all departments of Government and now, as our

reward, this slave-holding power comes with sword, gun,

and cannon to take the life of the nation and overthrow the

great American Government (Long 26). "There is no more

moving and telling an expression of the Black"s view of the

Civil War than this" (Long 26). On April 15, Lincoln called

for Union troops to regain the fort. The South regarded the

move as a declaration of war. Virginia, Arkansas, North

Carolina, and Tennessee soon joined the Confederacy.

Virginia had long been undecided about which side to join.

Its decision to join the Confederacy boosted Southern

morale. Richmond, Virginia"s capital, became the capital of

the Confederacy in May. It is ironic that only a few days

before Fort Sumter was attacked, Douglass had agreed to

make a trip to Haiti to investigate the possibility of

emigration there by free Blacks at the invitation of the

Haitian government. He had always been a strong foe of

emigration and repatriation schemes, but the increasingly

hostile environments for Blacks in the United States and the

growing power of the slave-holders in the government

worried him into exploring the option of emigration. (Long

27). When the Civil War began, about 22 million people

lived in the North. About 9 million people, including 3.5

million slaves, lived in the South. The North had around 4

million men from 15 through 40 years old - the

approximate age range for combat duty. The South had

only about 1 million white men from 15 through 40. The

north began to use black soldiers in 1863. The South did

not decide to use blacks as soldiers until the closing days of

the war. From the very beginning of the war, it was obvious

that many would lose their lives. As the war progressed,

the death toll drastically increased. At the close of the year

1862, the military situation was discouraging to the

supporters of the Federal Government. We had been

repulsed at Fredericksburg and at Vicksburg, and at

tremendous cost had fought the battle of Stone River.

Some sixty-five thousand troops would be discharged

during the ensuing summer and fall. Volunteering was at a

standstill. On the other hand, the Confederates, having filled

their ranks, were never better fitted for conflict. Politically,

the opposition had grown formidable, while the so-called

"peace- faction" was strong, and active for meditation.

(Emilio 1). It was evident that more and more men would

have to join the draft. But the wives of these soldiers did

not want their husbands running off to war, just to be killed.

More soldiers were need. Lincoln realized this, but did not

want to use black soldiers because he did not want to bring

the issue of slavery into the war. The war had began as an

effort to save the union, and that is how Lincoln wanted to

keep it. When the Confederate batteries fired on Fort

Sumter early on the morning of April 12, 1861,

inaugurating four years of internecine warfare, many

Negroes were eager to wear the Union blue. They found

their services were neither wanted at that time nor

contemplated in the future. (Leckie 3). At this time, most of

the blacks living in the South were slaves and wanted to

fight for the Union cause. "Many slaves saw their way to

freedom in the armies of the North" (Long 26). Early in the

war, Northern blacks who wanted to fight to end slavery

tried to enlist in the Union Army. But the Army rejected

them. Most whites felt the war was a "white man"s war."

Others felt that the blacks were not able to fight as well as

the white soldiers. As Northern armies drove into

Confederate territory, slaves flocked to Union camps.

After a period of uncertainty, the Union government

decided to allow them to perform support services for the

Northern war effort. In time, as many as 200,000 blacks

worked for Union armies as cooks, laborers, nurses,

scouts, and spies. Black leaders, such as the former slave

Frederick Douglass of New York, saw the Civil War as a

road to emancipation for the slaves. However, the idea of

emancipation presented problems in the North. For one

thing, the Constitution recognized slavery. In addition, most

Northerners - even though they may have opposed slavery

- were convinced of black inferiority. Many of them feared

the emancipation would cause a mass movement of

Southern blacks into the North, Northerners also worried

about losing the border states loyal to the Union because

those states were strongly committed to slavery. Skillful

leadership was needed as the country moved toward black

freedom. Lincoln supplied that leadership by combining a

clear sense of purpose with a sensitivity to the concerns of

various groups. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued a

preliminary order to free the slaves. It declared that all

slaves in the states in rebellion against the Union on January

1, 1863, would be forever free. It did not include slave

states loyal to the Union. On Jan 1, 1863, Lincoln issued

the final order as the Emancipation Proclamation. The

Emancipation Proclamation, though legally binding, was a

war measure that could be reversed later. Therefore, in

1865, Lincoln helped push through Congress the 13th

Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery

throughout the nation. For his effort in freeing the slaves,

Lincoln is known as the "Great Emancipator." However,

many discredit that title for Lincoln due to the fact that he

too believed that blacks were inferior in battle. The

Emancipation Proclamation also announced Lincoln"s

decision to use black troops, though many whites believed

that blacks would make poor soldiers. "They will run at the

first sign of danger!" (Park Net 5). "Approximately

180,000 blacks served in the Union Army, comprising 163

regiments. Many more African- Americans served in the

Union Navy Both free African-Americans and runaway

slaves joined the fight" (Bennett 326). "About two-thirds of

them were Southerners who had fled to freedom in the

North" (Bennett 326). "Only about 100 blacks were made

officers" (Park Net 2). "After the Emancipation

Proclamation in 1862, the Civil War became a war to save

the Union and to more importantly abolish slavery" (Long

27). The Confederacy objected strongly to the North"s use

of black soldiers because they grew fearful of losing slaves

to the Union armies. As slave masters in the South grew

fearful of losing slaves to the Union armies, they

implemented harsher restrictions upon their slaves, often

moving the entire plantation further inland to avoid

Northern contact. These changes, however, only caused

slaves to flee, and those that did stay demanded more

freedom from their masters. In this way, the slaves gained

some power in the situation, forcing masters to make

offerings in exchange for labor. (New York Public Library

1) . The Confederate government threatened to kill or

enslave any captured officers or enlisted men of black

regiments. Lincoln replied by promising to treat

Confederate prisoners of war the same way. Neither side

carried out its threats, but the exchange of prisoners broke

down mainly over the issue of black prisoners. The North"s

success in using black soldiers slowly led Southerners to

consider doing the same. In the spring of 1865 following a

strong demand by General Lee, the Confederate Congress

narrowly approved the use of black soldiers. However, the

war ended soon thereafter. Official Recruiting for black

regiments started in September of 1862. "In consequence

to the situation, the arming of Negroes, first determined

upon in October, 1862, was fully adopted as a military

measure" (Emilio 1). Although this allowed blacks to enlist

in the army, many viewed this as only a scheme to save

lives of white soldiers. The blacks were not allowed to fight

until needed. They were offered the same rights as the

white soldiers, but discrimination always interfered. Most

black soldiers did not receive equal pay and benefits. The

hesitating policy of our government permitted the Rebels to

confront every black soldier with the threat of death or

slavery if he were taken prisoner. If he escaped the bullet

and the knife, he came back to camp to learn that the

country for which he had braved that double peril intended

to cheat him out of pay on which his wife and children

depended for support. (Emilio 18). Even whites who

supported the idea of blacks in army were harassed. While

recruiting, Lieutenant Grace was often insulted by such

remarks as, "There goes the captain of the Negro

Company! He thinks the Negroes can fight! They will turn

and run at the first sight of the enemy! His little son was

scoffed at in school because his father was raising a Negro

Company to fight the white men. (Emilio 10). The decision

to use the blacks as soldiers was by no means universally

popular and was also selfishly motivated. The decision to

use the Negro as a soldier did not necessarily grow out of

any broad humanitarian resolve it seems to have come

more largely out of the dawning realization that, since the

Confederates were going to kill a great many more Union

soldiers before the war was over, a good many white men

would escape death if a considerable percentage of those

soldiers were colored. (Leckie 4). "Blacks sought refuge

behind the Union lines in greater and greater numbers

throughout the war" (Long 26). So why would blacks still

want to fight for the country that did not want them, but

needed them to fight? Runaway slaves from the South

joined the Union army for two reasons: They wanted to

protect themselves and escape the grasp of the South, and

they wanted to fight the evils of slavery. Frederick Douglas

encouraged blacks to join the Union cause. The first black

regiment to be formed was the 1st Kansas Colored

Volunteers in October, 1862. There were doubts against

this group from their very beginning. In general, white

soldiers and officers believed that black men lacked the

courage to fight and fight well. In 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.

(Park Net 1) At the battle of Port Hudson, Louisiana, May

27, 1863, 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. On July 17, 1863,

at Honey Springs, Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, the 1st

Kansas Colored fought with courage once 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 if Negroes will fight is settled

besides they make better soldiers in every respect than any

other troops I have ever had under my command." After

this battle, black soldiers began to receive some respect.

(Park Net 1). Even though the 1st Kansas regiment and

other colored groups were beginning to win many battles,

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. However, Congress

granted equal pay for all black soldiers in June of 1864.

The most famous black regiment would have to be the 54th

Massachusetts. On February 16, 1863, a call for black

soldiers was published in the columns of the Boston

Journal. In five days, twenty-five men were secured. Much

of the larger number of recruits were obtained through

black organizations in the Boston area. This regiment was

to be lead by Colonel Robert Shaw. This regiment has

gained great popularity over the last decade with the

release of the Oscar-winning film Glory. The most widely

known battle fought by African-Americans was the assault

on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, by the 54th

Massachusetts on July 18, 1863. The 54th volunteered to

lead the assault on the strongly-fortified Confederate

positions. It was a suicide mission from the start. But if the

black soldiers had any success in the attack, all doubts

would be lifted for they would have defeated all odds. "To

this Massachusetts Fifty-fourth was set the stupendous task

to convince the white race that colored troops would fight,

and not only would they fight, but that they could be made,

in every sense of the word, soldiers" (Emilio 17). Your

success hangs on the general success. If the Union lives, it

will live with equal races. If divided, and you have done

your duty, then you will stand upon the same platform with

the white race. Then make use of the offers Government

has made you for if you are not willing to fight your way up

to office, you are not worthy of it. Put yourselves under the

starts and stripes, and fight yourselves to the marquee of a

general, and you shall come out with a sword! (Emilio 14).

The soldiers of the 54th scaled the fort"s parapet, and were

only driven back after brutal hand-to-hand combat. A

monument of the 54th and its slain leader Colonel Robert

Shaw was installed in Boston May 31st, 1897. Black

soldiers participated in every major campaign of

1864-1865 except Sherman"s invasion of Georgia. The

year 1864 was especially eventful for black 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 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 US Color

Troops survived the fight. Many accused the Confederates

of perpetuating a massacre of black troops, and the

controversy continues to this day. "The battle cry for the

Negro soldier east of the Mississippi River became

"Remember Fort Pillow!"" (Park Net 5). The Confederate

army did not consider the usage of slaves throughout the

war. However, near the end when the future looked dismal,

the South decided to use blacks for the Confederate cause.

"Leaders of the Confederacy considered schemes for the

enlistment of blacks in the armies and for their eventual

freedom" (Long 26). However, those who did serve in the

Confederate army were not given their freedom by the

Confederate government, but rather by the North after the

war had ended. The United States Civil War began as an

effort to save the Union, and ended in a fight to abolish

slavery. This battle for emancipation, some would argue,

was won by the slaves themselves. While this remains a

debate, it is clear that the slaves did contribute significantly

to their own freedom. By running from masters to become

contrabands for the Union, laboring behind the scenes for

the Northern armies, and risking their lives on the

battlefront, the slaves centralized the issue of freedom and

played a key role in the North"s victory. (New York Public

Library 1). In actual numbers, African-American soldiers

comprised 10% of the entire Union Army. Losses among

African-Americans were high, and from all reported

casualties, approximately one-third of all

African-Americans enrolled in the military lost their lives

during the Civil war. (Park Net 5). African-American

soldiers, despite doubt and prejudice by society, proved

themselves to be formidable warriors on the battlefield.

They were just as deadly, if not deadlier, that their white

counterparts. They won many of the Civil War battles, and

in doing so, won their independence. "Once let the black

man get upon his person the brass letters, US, 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 the right to citizenship in the

United States" (Park Net 1).  

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