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This Far by Faith

Journeys

Timeline

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1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues
1526-1775: from AFRICA to AMERICA
1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR
Next Journey
The Civil War: Fighting in a White Man's War 1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW



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Timeline: 1776-1865 View Detailed Timeline
1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues
1866-1945: from EMANCIPATION to JIM CROW1946-1966: from CIVIL RIGHTS to BLACK POWER1967-TODAY: from CRISIS, A SEARCH FOR MEANINGTODAY: The Journey Continues



1776-1865: from BONDAGE to HOLY WAR
The Civil War: Fighting in a White Man's War



"They belive that now is the time appointed by God for their deliverance; and, under the heroic incitement of this faith, I believe them capable of showing a courage and persistency of purpose which must, in the end, extort both victory and admiration." --Major General David Hunter


"This is a white man's war" was the oft-repeated refrain during the first two years of the Civil War, as blacks were told over and over again to stay out of it. Throughout this period, President Lincoln steadfastly refused to enlist men of African descent. He was attempting to preserve the Union without dealing with the question of slavery, and he did not want to alienate the border slave states that remained in the Union.


Handwritten copy of the Emanicipation Proclamation

Handwritten copy of the Emanicipation Proclamation


African-Americans saw the matter differently. In their providential interpretation, the Civil War was like the parting of the Red Sea, flooding North and South with bloodshed - a punishment for permitting the sin of slavery to persist for so long. President Lincoln and his Republican Party were seen as the fulfillment of God's promise to free His people. Black Americans saw their role in the conflict as that of a chosen people, chosen like the Jews in Egypt to be the saviors of the human race, to lead America to a full realization of its democratic principles. Fighting in the Civil War meant serving as a soldier in God's Army.

The most persistent advocate of arming blacks was the outspoken abolitionist Frederick Douglass. "Colored men," he complained, "were good enough to fight under Washington, but they are not good enough to fight under McClellan." He further stated that "liberty won only by white men would lose half of its luster."

The first organization of blacks took place in Cincinnati, Ohio, a pro-slavery city in which prejudice was cruelly manifested. The Black Brigade was organized but, due to the irate attitude of the White citizens, was forced to disband shortly thereafter. The proprietor of the place selected as the recruiting station was forced to remove the American flag. The proprietor of another meeting place was told by the police, "We want you damned niggers to keep out of this; this is a white man's war."

Thousands of fugitive slaves flooded the Union lines wherever federal forces penetrated new areas in the south. Without a general governmental policy, many commanders tried to send the fugitives back to their masters, forbade them to enter Union lines, or permitted masters and their agents to enter Union lines to retrieve their property.


Provost of Guard of the 107th Colored Infantry at Fort Corcoran.

Provost of Guard of the 107th Colored Infantry at Fort Corcoran.


When fugitive slaves took refuge within the federal lines near Fortress Monroe, Virginia, General Benjamin F. Butler learned that they had been utilized in building Confederate fortification. He declared them "contrabands of war," a phrase that stuck, and put them to work building fortification for wages. He further stated that he was not obligated to return property to a foreign government. By the end of 1861, large numbers of ex-slaves were constructing Union fortifications, and working as teamsters, cooks, and carpenters. In some units they served as spies and scouts.

General David Hunter, Commander of the Department of the South, issued an Emancipation Proclamation freeing all of the enslaved in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida in May 1862. The act was repudiated by the Lincoln administration. Shortly thereafter, General Hunter, without permission, began recruiting ex-slaves from the Sea Islands area for formation of the 1st Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers. The regiment attracted much attention and helped prepare the country to accept black troops.


"Drummer" of the 79th U.S. Colored Troops.

"Drummer" of the 79th U.S. Colored Troops.


During the summer and into the fall of 1862, President Lincoln gradually and steadily altered his view of the war and issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September. Possible motives were centered on forestalling European intervention on the side of the Confederacy; attempting to undermine the southern economy; reasserting control over the Republican Party; and furnishing a prelude to the enlistment of black combat troops. In late August, the War Department, in a radical policy shift, officially sanctioned the recruitment of blacks with a policy statement: "All slaves admitted into military service, together with their wives and children, are declared forever free."

The United States Colored Troops participated in 449 engagements, of which 39 were major battles. The most active units in the South and West were the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry (79th USCI) with 14 engagements, and the 1st Mississippi Cavalry (3rd USCC) with 10 engagements. The contributions of these African-American units were crucial to saving the Union.

- Adapted from an article by Bennie McRae. Copyright 1995. LWF Publications. Reprinted from the April, 1995 edition of Lest We Forget.




People of Faith


 Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass


Did You Know?



Who are the Black Civil War Re-Enactors?
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Susie King Taylor was the only black woman known to write about her participation in the Civil War.
more


Blacks also fought in the Confederacy.
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