Monday, April 6, 2009

African Americans

While the United States was beginning to develop, conflict between the individual states was the cause for division among America in 1861. When several of the Southern states broke away from the Union the Civil War was starting to fuel. From there one of the most bloody wars in American history took place when the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, the Federal military base in South Carolina. Through all of the battles and deaths, one of the greater aspects of the war was the courage and involvement of African-American soldiers and sailors of the Union army.

In 1861, the United States Navy needed an astounding number of people in order to blockade hundreds of miles of Confederate coast with not many troops. Due to a shortage of sailors, the Navy had to rely on a large number of African-Americans to fill these ranks. Luckily for the Navy, African-Americans have had experience in sailing on ships dating as far back to the Revolutionary War.

African-Americans only represented a small percentage of the Navy’s manpower in 1861, but the exact number can subjected to a lot of debate. Research throughout the 1900’s conducted by different sources ranges the numbers somewhere between nine to twenty-five percent. These numbers equal about 10,000 to 32,000 soldiers. The exact could never be found due to the fact that navy documents never classified sailors by race, weird for the amount of racism going on at the time.

Not only did sailors play a big part in the Civil War, so did soldiers. Not including the Union Navy, about 180,000 African-Americans served in the Union Army. Since white soldiers believed black men lacked the courage to fight, blacks were given the chance to show whites the amount of courage they possessed, giving them a chance for equal rights. Until 1962, Abraham Lincoln feared letting African-Americans into the military. He thought the already prejudice Northern whites might be stirred even more. The fact that he could weaken the more powerful Confederate army by freeing slaves and letting them into the army made him change his mind. This was known as the Emancipation Proclamation.

Although, more than eighty percent of black Union soldiers were from Confederate states, almost all commanding officers were white. More than seventy of one hundred and ten blacks who had superior positions were still harassed until they resigned. This racial prejudice sometimes sprang understandably from white soldiers refusing to take orders from black superiors. Blacks did not only face discrimination in these type of forms. African-American enlisted men received ten dollars a month, three dollars less then any white soldier. Blacks also had an additional three dollars docked off of their paycheck for a monthly charge to provide them with clothing. Eventually pay for African-Americans was increased to normal wage; this was only for men who were free at the start of the Civil War.

Not only were the colored discriminated by the pay they received, but they suffered more than their white comrades. African-Americans were often given inferior weaponry and were almost assigned to the most unhealthy positions. Blacks lost almost 29,000 men to disease alone, nine times as much as were lost due to wounds. It never mattered where black regiments were assigned because they always had to put up with inferior medical facilities and care.

The role of the African-American sailor and soldier can be put into comparison in terms of which situation was better for a colored man. Blacks in the Navy were treated much better. A lot of this had to do with the integration of white and blacks Navy members. The original reason for the two races not being segregated was that it would be out of the question to leave a vessel full of African-Americans alone. It was feared that they would try to get away. Living in close quarters with each other led blacks and whites to learn respect for each other and keep their prejudices to themselves.

Unlike black soldiers, sailors of opposing race received the same amount of pay. Plus there was numerous amounts of benefits being in the Navy. Sailors received “prize money” for the capture of Confederate merchant ships. These prizes were extremely helpful. A sailor could receive several years full of wages by obtaining prize money for captures. Blacks in Navy crews also had standard uniforms and equipment, unlike Negro Union soldiers. Also, Navy crews could be given more equipment and or clothing at any time because there was a superior amount of supplies. Lastly, medical care was lacking in the army. While the army lost about one in every fifteen recruits to disease, the navy only lost about one in every forty crew members.

The reason for my paper being solely focused on African-American involvement with the Union is because the Confederacy found it difficult to assign a meaningful role to a black or a slave in a major war. Confederates refused to enlist them as soldiers but they were often used to be put to other tasks. These tasks included building fortifications, expanding river defenses, repairing rail networks, and assistance in manufacturing. The only time blacks were used in the Confederate army was when states started to secede. Governments of the states had no other choice but to enlist all eligible men to fight due to their primary obligation being to protect their citizens.

African-Americans were involved in some big battles. They had to succeed in these to show that they had the courage to fight well. The first attack by Negro soldiers was in the battle of Island Mound. The 1st Kansas Colored Volunteers made this attack, they were a group of African-American soldiers. This same group took part in the battle of Port Hudson at a battle at Honey Springs. In the latter Union troops ran into a strong Confederate force. Eventually after a long and bloody two hour siege, the Confederates retreated and the 1st Kansas were within fifty paces of the Confederate line.

African-Americans were prominently known for their attack on Fort Wagner, by the 54th Massachusetts in 1963. They volunteered to lead the battle. Although they fought with all their hearts, they ended up having to retreat due to brutal hand to hand combat. At Fort Pillow, over 2500 Confederates were led to attack on a Union fortification held by only about 600 men. Almost all of the Union troops were massacred after being led down into a crossfire perpetrated by the Confederates. The most heroic action performed by a group of African-Americans was during the Battle of New Market Heights. When Union troops were pinned down by Confederate fire, the troops courageously attacked the artillery fire. There were a tremendous amount of casualties suffered, however, of the sixteen Medal of Honor awards given to Negroes during the Civil War, fourteen of them were received by troops in this battle.

There were many other battle in which blacks were involved in, for they participated in every major battle in 1864 with the exception of Sherman’s Invasion of Georgia. All of these situations showed how much courage African-Americans really had during the Civil War. Not only during battle, but being treated unfairly on a day to day basis. Especially for soldiers, they had to put up with tremendous amounts of discrimination in the army, even while having superior positions. At a time where if an African-American was not a slave it was treated like one anyways, blacks had a lot of guts and courage for stepping up and succeeding in the Civil War.

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