On August 9, 1863, Frederick Douglass met with President Abraham Lincoln to discuss the fair treatment and equal pay of African American soldiers within the Union Army. Although African American soldiers had proven themselves in battle, recruitment declined as black soldiers still faced racial discrimination and prejudice. Douglass expressed three specific grievances directly to President Lincoln and Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, in an effort to improve the treatment of African American soldiers.
Image Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-highsm-09902]
More than 180,000 African American soldiers served in the Union Army during the Civil War and of these, sixteen earned the Medal of Honor. Soldiers like Sergeant William H. Carney, Private James Daniel Gardner, Corporal Miles James, Thomas R. Hawkins and Christian Fleetwood were awarded for personal acts of valor that were above and beyond the call of duty. Fourteen of the sixteen Medals of Honor awarded were given away for actions at the Battle of New Market Heights, where over 50 percent of the black troops were killed, wounded, or captured.
Image Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, [LC-DIG-ppmsca-08997]
The women's rights movement in America was directly influenced by the work of the abolitionist movement. By 1863, the abolitionist and women's rights advocate Sojourner Truth had spent more than twenty years speaking out against slavery. She was a remarkable case, but the Civil War saw many female heroes. During the war, American women threw themselves into public life with an enthusiasm born out of a sense of duty.
Image Credit: New York Public Library
On November 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, President Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, just 272 words, lasting 3 minutes. The location of the Gettysburg Address had its own special resonance for African-Americans. Since the eighteenth century, the town of Gettysburg had maintained a small, vibrant African-American community. But during the Battle of Gettysburg, the two armies damaged or destroyed much of the property belonging to African-Americans, and many of the black residents who fled the town did not return. Though no one could mistake the meaning of the “new birth of freedom”, the Gettysburg Address remained silent about the fate of African-Americans. The “great task” mentioned by Lincoln was not emancipation, but the preservation of self-government. Though words cannot end a war or bind up a nation’s wounds, the Gettysburg Address lives on as perhaps the most significant speech in American history. Image Credit: Courtesy of Special Collections/Musselman Lib...
In December 1863, a lifelong slave named Robert Smalls became the first black captain of a United States vessel. From that point onward, he would earn $150 per month, making him one of the war’s highest paid black soldiers. But Smalls’ most memorable accomplishment came a year earlier, in one of the most audacious acts of the Civil War. Image Credit: From the Collections of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
By the end of 1863, with the Confederate army lacking resources, funds, and manpower, it had become clear to Confederate General Patrick Cleburne that the south desperately needed to find ways to recruit new soldiers for the rebel cause. Calling it “a plan which we believe will save our country,” in January 1864, he called upon the leaders of the Army of the Tennessee and proposed the emancipation of slaves in order to enlist them in the Confederate war effort. In Episode 24 we explore the role of African Americans in the Confederate States Army. Image Credit: Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama
On February 24, 1864, Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler overcame prejudices and severe constraints to become the first African American woman in the United States to earn a medical degree. During and after the Civil War, she cared for freed African Americans who would otherwise have had no access to medical care. Image Credit: Sun Oil Company
On March 20, 1864 the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry fought in a battle at Roseville Creek, Arkansas. This infantry was the first black infantry to form and engage in combat in the north. Formed in August 1862 as the First Kansas Colored Infantry and re-designated on December 13, 1864 as the 79th U.S. Colored Troops, the recruits were freedom seekers from surrounding pro-slavery states like Arkansas and Missouri. Image Credit:Courtesy of Marla Quilts Inc. African American Quilt Museum and Textile Academy, Marla A. Jackson
On April 12, 1864, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest invaded the Union garrison at Fort Pillow, Tennessee with 1500 Confederate soldiers. Union Major Lionel F. Booth commanded the garrison with, an estimated, 600 troops. The Battle of Fort Pillow is often referred to as the Fort Pillow Massacre due to the overwhelming Union casualties, of which the Confederate army specifically targeted African American soldiers. Image Credit: General Research & Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
On May 4th, 1864 Lieutenant General-in-Chief of the Union Army Ulysses S. Grant ordered the Army of the Potomac to cross the Rapidan River and march through an area of dense woodland known as the Wilderness. Grant’s plan was for Union troops to move quickly through the Wilderness in order to slip behind Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and invade Richmond, Virginia. Grant and Lee’s troops engaged in what would become the Battle of the Wilderness. Although the United States Colored Troops were not fighting on the front lines, their duties to guard Union supplies, rail lines, and beachheads proved to be necessary and perilous. The Battle of the Wilderness ended on May 6, 1864 marking the first of several engagements African American Union soldiers had with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Image Credit: Library of Congress