Civil War

Joseph Hayne Rainey

Joseph Hayne Rainey First Black Congressman

Joseph Hayne Rainey fled to Bermuda so he would not have to help the Confederate Army during the Civil War. When he returned to the United States, he went into politics. He was the first Black man to serve in the United States House of Representatives.

Joseph was born into slavery in Georgetown, South Carolina on July 21, 1832. Joseph’s father was allowed to leave the plantation, where they were enslaved, and earn money working as a barber. Since he was not free, he had to share his earning with his enslaver. Joseph’s father saved the money he was able to keep. When he had enough, he purchased his family’s freedom.

When the Civil War started in 1861, the Rainey family was living as free people in South Carolina. Free Black people did not have the same rights as white people. They did not control anything and were sometimes forced to work for those in power.

Joseph was forced to work for the Confederate Army. He did not want to help the south during the war, and he did not want to work for an army that was fighting to keep slavery. When Joseph got the chance he and his wife escaped to Bermuda.

Joseph was a barber like his father. He started a barber business in Bermuda. His wife started a dressmaking business. Both businesses were successful.

The couple returned to the United States during Reconstruction and moved back to South Carolina. Reconstruction was the period that followed the Civil War. It was a time when the country worked to come together as one nation. It was also a time when Black men were able to vote and run for office. During that time Joseph became active in politics.


When one of South Carolina’s congressmen had to resign from office, Joseph was chosen to replace him.


Joseph Hayne Rainey served in the United States House of Representatives for ten years. While in office he fought for civil rights laws, money for public schools and equal rights for all Americans.


Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman is known for helping enslaved Black Americans escape to freedom. But she did so much more. She helped the Union army during the Civil War, She fought for voting rights for women, and she cared for the elderly.

Harriet Tubman was born on a farm in Dorchester County, Maryland around 1822. People born into slavery did not get birth certificates, so she never knew her birthday. When you are enslaved, you are forced to work at a young age. Harriet started working on the farm when she was about six years old. If there was no work for her on the farm where she was enslaved, she was rented out to work on other farms.

Harriet was held in slavery on the same farm as most of her family. One of her sisters was sold to a farm far away. When Harriet learned that she might be sold also, she ran away. Harriet had been told about the secret places and people that were part of the Underground Railroad. She used that information to make her way to freedom.

Harriet hid during the day and only travelled after dark. People who were part of the Underground Railroad helped her. Each person who helped her gave her the name of the next person to help her until she reached freedom.

After escaping from slavery Harriet worked and saved her money so she could help her family and others escape. She became a conductor on the Underground Railroad and spent ten years leading enslaved people to freedom.

During the Civil War Harriet worked with the Union Army as a nurse, cook, scout and spy. In 1863 she led Union soldiers on a raid of plantations along the Combahee River in Beaufort, South Carolina. During the raid seven hundred Black men, women and children were freed. Harriet was the first woman in the United States to lead a military operation.

After the war Harriet returned to her home in Auburn, New York where she got involved in the suffrage movement and fought for voting rights for women.

Harriet also cared for the elderly. In 1896 she purchased land near her home to create the Harriet Tubman Home for the Aged.

Harriet stayed in Auburn for the remainder of her life. She died there in 1913.

Harriet was a great woman. People have celebrated her life by naming parks, roads, and museums after her. The United State Post Office has created two stamps to honor her.

Charlotte Forten

Charlotte Forten, teacher, abolitionist, and suffragist grew up surrounded by activism. It’s no wonder she got involved in work for civil rights and equal rights for Black Americans.

In 1861, soon after the Civil War began, Union forces took over the coastal areas of Georgia and South Carolina. Confederate plantation owners fled the area leaving behind people they had enslaved, plus hundreds of acres of land and crops that need to be harvested.

The federal government issued an order that those freed by the Union Army would be resettled on those abandoned farms and would, for the first time, be paid to harvest the crops.

Enslaved Americans were not able to go to school so many of the emancipated men in women were not able to read and write. They needed assistance making the transition from slavery to citizenship.

Charlotte Forten, who was involved in the anti-slavery movement in Massachusetts, was recruited to go south and teach emancipated Black Americans on the Sea Islands of South Carolina.

Charlotte was the child of well respected abolitionists in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. She was born on August 17, 1837 and spent her early years in Philadelphia. Her parents were well-off and were able to hire a private tutor for her education. When she was seventeen they sent her to Salem, Massachusetts to live with friends who were also well-known abolitionists, and to attend an integrated school.

In 1856 Charlotte graduated from Salem Normal School, now Salem State University. She was the school’s first Black student. After graduation she worked as a teacher in Salem and taught Black and white students. She also joined the Female-Anti Slavery Society, before moving to South Carolina in 1862 to teach on St. Helena Island.

Charlotte taught on St. Helena Island for two years. She returned to Philadelphia in 1864 where she continued her activism. She also published “Life on Sea Islands” in 1864, which was about her experience teaching in the south.

Charlotte remained an activist for the rest of her life. She became active in the suffrage movement and in 1896 helped found the National Association of Colored Women.

Charlotte died in 1914 at the age of 76.

Thomas Morris Chester

Civil War ReporterWhen Black Union soldiers captured the city of Richmond, and took over the Confederate capital, Thomas Morris Chester was there with them reporting on their brave actions for the Philadelphia Press newspaper.

Thomas was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on May 11, 1834. His mother had been enslaved. She escaped slavery, on her own, in 1825. Little is known about his father’s early life.

Both of Thomas’ parents were abolitionists and active in the anti-slavery movement. They owned an oyster restaurant which also served as a meeting place for Black activists. Thomas grew up with a desire to fight for a better life for Black Americans and became active in the anti-slavery movement with his parents.

When Thomas was a young man, there a movement to get Black Americans to emigrate to Liberia, a country in Africa, for a better life. Thomas who was, tired of the indignities Black Americans faced became part of the movement.

In April 1853 he left the United States and went to Liberia where he planned to attend school. He was not pleased with the school and before long returned to America.

Thomas continued his activism and when the Civil War started, recruited Black soldiers for the Union Army. He later became a Civil War correspondent for the Philadelphia Press newspaper and reported on the activities of Black soldiers on the front lines in Virginia. Thomas was the only Black reporter for a major daily newspaper during the war. He traveled with the 25th Army Corp, which was part of the 7th United States Colored Troops and reported on their actions during the final year of the war, including their role in taking Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy.

Thomas’ reporting was the only first-hand account of what Black soldiers experienced fighting on the front lines during the Civil War.

William Carney

Sergeant William H. Carney was the first Black soldier to earn the Medal of Honor for bravery during war.

He was born into slavery on February 29, 1840 in Norfolk, Virginia. His father escaped slavery through the Underground Railroad. He then worked to save enough money to buy his family’s freedom. Once all were free the family moved to New Bedford, Massachusetts.

William had plans to become a minister, but put those plans aside to answer the call for Blacks men to join the military during the Civil War. William enlisted and became a member of the all-black 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.

On July 18, 1863, the 54th Regiment went into battle against Confederate troops at Fort Wagner on Morris Island in South Carolina.  They were met with heavy fighting from the Confederates. During the battle Sergeant Carney carried the US flag. Although wounded, he continued moving forward and never let the flag touch the ground.

The 54th lost the battle. More than 100 men, including their commander Colonel Robert Gould Shaw were killed.

During the war it was very important that the United States flag stayed up so soldiers could see it and be inspired to move forward and keep fighting. William was praised for his actions and for making sure the flag stayed up and visible.

Many white Civil War soldiers and commanders did not recognize or acknowledge the bravery of Black soldiers. The Medal of of Honor was not awarded to William until  May 1900. He died eight years later.