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The Roles African American In

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The Roles African American In

In the history of the United States, African Americans have always been discriminated against. When Africans first came to America, they were taken against their will and forced to work as laborers. They became slaves to the rich, greedy, lazy Americans. They were given no pay and often badly whipped and beaten. African Americans fought for their freedom, and up until the Civil War it was never given to them. When the Civil War began, they wanted to take part in fighting to free all slaves. Their opportunity to be soldiers and fight along side white men equally did not come easily, but eventually African Americans proved themselves able to withstand the heat of battle and fight as true American heroes.

The road to freedom from slavery was a long and hard for the African Americans. In the northern states the Civil War began as a fight against the succession of the Confederate states from the Union. Abraham Lincoln, who was President at this time, wanted to save the nation by bringing the southern states back to the Union, but this 'Great Emancipator' ironically did not have much intention of freeing the slaves. His greatest interest lie in preventing a war from occurring. However, even he could not stop the outbreak of the Civil War (Fincher).

With the war just beginning, ex-slaves and other African Americans wanted to get in on the action. They wanted to fight against those who had enslaved them and their families for generations. They began volunteering and trying to enlist, but everywhere they went they were rejected. 'In general, white soldiers and officers believed that black men lacked the courage to fight and fight well' (History of African-Americans in the Civil War). Even some abolitionists believed putting them in the battlefield would be putting African Americans higher than they should be. They said that though blacks should not be enslaved, they should not be equal to the white male. The African Americans, however, refused to give up their fight to be allowed to defend their country with pride.

Pressure from blacks eager to fight, from abolitionists and from a few Army officers who needed men, as well as changing circumstances, eventually altered Lincoln's policy. Along the way, convoluted legal questions involving the Constitution and slaves as property had to be got around (Fincher).

President Lincoln was being bombarded with pressure to let free African Americans fight in the war. At the same time, pressure to abolish slavery was put on the President. Finally, in the summer of 1862, with the realization that the war would not be won without the end of slavery, Lincoln drew up the Emancipation Proclamation (Fincher). This document freed slaves in all areas who rebelled against the Union. This began a rippling effect to many other aspects of the war and led to the enlistment of African Americans in the Union Army and Navy.

On July 17, 1862, Congress 'repealed an act of 1792 barring black men from serving in state militia' (Smith 308). A new Militia Act permitted the enlistment of free black men and ex-slaves. Now after the long hard fight to be allowed to serve in the Union Army, African Americans would finally have their chance to prove themselves as worthy soldiers. They would serve America proudly and fight to free their fellow brothers who were still enslaved.

Enrollment began in September of 1862 (Allen 225). Thousands of black men enlisted. They would be commanded, led, and trained by all white officers. There were not to be any black officers commissioned and all African American soldiers were to be regarded as laborers. They would receive less pay than a white soldier. Instead of $13 plus clothing expenses, they would only receive $10 without clothing expenses (The American Civil War: A Multicultural Encyclopedia 55).

When word of African Americans enlisting in the Union Army got out, the Confederate Army lashed out many threats. They .'warned that Union officers recruiting and arming slaves were 'outlaws' and would be subject to execution as felons when President Davis gave the order. And all 'slaves captured in arms' would be handed to state officials (Allen).

These soldiers would be treated like fugitives and would face life imprisonment or the death penalty (Smith 307). However, this did not stop African Americans from flocking to enlist. It was hard enough dealing with the Confederates threats of execution, but African American soldiers were constantly being discriminated against by many of the white soldiers in the Union Army. They refused to consider the idea of fight along side a black soldier (Fincher). They said blacks were not equal and it would dishonor them to have to fight along side these Negroes. Because of this, hundreds of Union soldiers left the army (Fincher). Black soldiers were subject to discrimination and petty harassment everywhere they went. Through it all, African Americans still lined up for enlistment. They never backed down and refused to show the white men their weaknesses.

Some soldiers were treated well and trained well, but most were brutalized and discriminated against. Often some of the soldiers would say they were treated no better than the slaves they were fighting to free. Black soldiers were assigned the more menial tasks even on the battlefield (Ward 253). They were often subject to harsh whippings if commands were not followed. They received inferior equipment and medical care. Nearly twice as many African Americans died of diseases on the battlefield then the white soldiers (Ward 253).

Throughout the war, black soldiers fought for their rights to be treated equally. They were continuously told that in order to receive equal pay and to be considered for being commissioned as an officer, they would have to prove themselves on the battlefield. The problem with this was they were being denied the right to engage in battle. Many of the African American soldiers were getting impatient and frustrated. They had signed up for the army to fight and defend their freedom, not to do the laborious tasks the white soldiers did not want to do.

Perhaps the most famous regiment to fight for their equal rights was the 54th Massachusetts (Fincher). Col. Robert Shaw, commander of this infantry, was one of the few white commanders who treated his troops with dignity and respect. He helped them fight for their rights as soldiers. The entire regiment, including white officers, began refusing pay until blacks were given the same pay that white soldiers were being given (Fincher). President Lincoln began supporting the ideas of equal treatment for both blacks and whites in April 1864. Finally, three months later, 'pressured by public opinion and encouraged by many white officers of these black troops Congress enacted equal pay legislation' (The American Civil War: A Multicultural Encyclopedia 56). African Americans had won the battle in the war of equality.

African American soldiers continued fighting for other rights. Besides the issue of equal pay, they were offended at the refusal to commission black officers. They began and continued pressuring the government, until finally the War Department gave in to their relentless badgering. They reversed their policy and began commissioning the outstanding black soldiers as officers (Smith 326). The blacks had won yet another battle.

Being allowed to prove themselves in an engagement was now the greatest challenge African Americans faced. Robert Shaw of the 54th Massachusetts demanded that his regiment be given the opportunity to engage in battle and not just the menial tasks assigned to them (Fincher). Many other commanders also demanded the same things for their troops. They believed their regiment had been well trained and prepared for battle. The black ...

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