On June 15, 1864, Congress finally approved an act to equalize pay amongst all Union soldiers. African American soldiers were now paid $13 per month plus a $3.50 uniform allowance equal to that of white soldiers. Nevertheless, Congress made a distinction between freed and formerly enslaved soldier in determining retroactive pay. This distinction divided African American regiments and lowered morale. Image Credit: National Park Service
Stuck in a stalemate during a particularly hot and humid Virginia summer, on the morning of July 30, 1864, General Ambrose Burnside decided to take drastic measures: Union troops would dig a tunnel, pack it with explosives, and blow up the Confederate line. The explosion immediately killed 278 Confederate soldiers. For African American soldiers, the Battle of the Crater proved particularly devastating. Caught in the deep hole of the crater, black troops became easy targets of Confederate soldiers thirty feet above them, even as many tried to surrender. African American survivors of the Battle of the Crater viewed their sacrifice and valor on the battlefield as an integral process of transformation in American society that they hoped would result in the rights of full citizenship. Image Credit: Library of Congress
In August of 1864, Thomas Morris Chester became the first African American war correspondent to work for a major daily newspaper in the United States. He became an eyewitness to fierce battles between the Union and Confederates and reported on the bravery of African American soldiers on the front lines. Image Credit: Courtesy of Cheyney University Archives
On the morning of September 29, 1864, Union troops, including several black regiments, crossed the James River and surprised the Confederate troops at Chaffin’s Farm. Some historians consider the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm and New Market Heights as the defining moment in African American military history. To honor African American troops who fought during the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm and New Market Heights Major General Benjamin F. Butler commissioned a special medal officially known as the “Army of the James Medal.
The stories of Cathay Williams, Mary Bowser, Susie King Taylor, and Sojourner Truth demonstrate that African American women contributed to and aided Civil War efforts in a variety of crucial ways. Often lost, ignored, or simply overlooked in the history of the Civil War, these women’s stories serve as an important reminder of black women’s active roles and experiences during wartime.
By the fall of 1864, with the war in its fourth year, President Abraham Lincoln faced many challenges on his road to reelection. Americans certainly recognized that the 1864 election would determine the entire direction of the war: if Lincoln won, the war would be fought until the South had surrendered unconditionally; however, if George B. McClellan proved victorious, there would almost surely be a reconciliation between the North and the South. Many African Americans, and especially black men serving in the USCT regiments, actively supported Lincoln’s bid for reelection. Black soldiers, few of whom had the right to vote, inundated black newspapers with letters urging family and friends to support Lincoln’s campaign and to vote, if they could, in the November election. On Tuesday, November 8, 1864, Americans participated in an election that truly changed the course of American history.
On December 19, 1864, The Ladies’ Sanitary Association of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Philadelphia gave a holiday fair for the benefit of sick and wounded black soldiers. For Civil War charities working year round, the holiday season became an important moment to remind Americans of the needs of soldiers, freedmen, and others who were suffering under the burdens of war. For African American communities, these fundraising efforts became vital tools for providing much needed food, clothing, and other forms of assistance to black troops, who often lacked the most basic supplies provided to white Union soldiers. One of the most well known women who raised money for African American soldiers and freedmen was Elizabeth Keckley.
On the evening of January 12, 1865, Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton and Union General, William T. Sherman met with twenty of Georgia’s black ministers to discuss what some historians now call the nation’s first act of Reconstruction. The purpose of the meeting was for Sherman and Stanton to gather information on how freedmen understood the war, and how they imagined their future in a post-war America. Based on the conversation that took place that evening, on January 16, 1865, William T. Sherman issued Special Field Order No. 15. Upon Sherman’s order, 400,000 acres of land, including Georgia’s Sea Islands and the mainland thirty miles in from the coast, were redistributed to newly freed slaves.
In February 1865, Martin Robison Delany was commissioned as the first black combat major in the Union army achieving the highest rank of an African American during the Civil War. In his life he worked to bring economics and education to newly freed African Americans and encouraged an emigration back to Africa. Image Credit: Public Domain
The Battle of Natural Bridge was fought on March 6, 1865, in Newport, Florida near Tallahassee. Tallahassee was one of the few southern capitals not invaded by the Union, which protected a significant area from the severe economic losses. On the evening of March 5, 1865 the 2nd and 99th United States Colored Infantries arrived at Natural Bridge and prepared to cross, but were met with Confederate forces. The fighting took place at close range and involved heavy fire from both small arms and artillery. The Union force was badly beaten and by the end of the day was in full retreat back to the St. Marks Lighthouse. The Confederate army held the bridge and saved Tallahassee. Image Credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory