Blacks and the Civil War

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass

How well do students know Frederick Douglass? Do they know that he recruited troops to fight in the Civil War, including his sons Lewis and Charles?

When the war broke out Douglass, who had already escaped from slavery, was living in Massachusetts. He was very active in the abolitionist movement and traveled on the lecture circuit speaking out against slavery. He was also the publisher of the North Star, an antislavery newspaper.

Douglass saw the Civil War as a war to end slavery and believed that black men should be allowed to fight in the battle for their freedom. As the war progressed his speeches and newspaper editorials included calls for President Lincoln to grant slaves their freedom and to allow them to enlist in in the Union army. “A war undertaken and brazenly carried for the perpetual enslavement of the colored men, calls logically and loudly for the colored men to help suppress it”, said Douglass.

In 1863, after suffering defeats on the battlefield and a decrease in white volunteers, President Lincoln authorized the enlistment of black men in combat and asked states to begin recruitment of black men.

The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment was the first black regiment formed after President Lincoln issued the call for black troops. The governor of Massachusetts asked Frederick Douglass to help recruit men for the unit. Douglass agreed and wrote an editorial for the local newspaper urging men to join the Union forces.

“Men of Color, To Arms! The case is before you. This is our golden opportunity. Let us accept it, and forever wipe out the dark reproaches unsparingly hurled against us by our enemies. Let us win for ourselves the gratitude of our country, and the best blessings of our posterity through all time.”

Douglass’ sons, Lewis and Charles were among the first to enlist.

Alexander T Augusta

Black Civil War Physician

Alexander T Augusta was one of at least thirteen black civil war physicians.

Because of his skin color Alexander T Augusta was not allowed to enroll in medical school in the United States. Unwilling to give up his dream, he moved to Canada in 1850 and enrolled in Trinity Medical College in Toronto.

After receiving his medical degree from Trinity he wrote to President Abraham Lincoln and requested to serve as a Civil War physician for a “colored regiments.”

Dr. Augusta would became the first African American commissioned as a medical officer in the Union Army. For a while he served as surgeon-in-charge at the Contraband Hospital for free blacks and former slaves in Washington, DC.

He later became head-surgeon for the 7th Infantry of the United States Colored Troops in Maryland.

When Dr. Augusta joined his regiment, several white surgeons objected to having a black man as their superior officer. They wrote to President Lincoln asking to end Dr. Augusta’s appointment. Dr. Augusta was reassigned to a recruiting station for black troops. (Source: https://www.nlm.nih.gov)

 

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Robert Smalls

Robert Smalls

Do students know that Robert Smalls was hailed as a hero during the Civil War?

Robert Smalls, who was born into slavery in South Carolina, was drafted for service in the Confederate Army. He was assigned to pilot a Confederate ship that was used to transport guns and ammunition.

In May 1862 the black crew, led by Smalls, hijacked the ship and turned it over to the Union Navy.

Smalls and his actions were celebrated by the North. He supported the Union and used his knowledge of the South Carolina Sea Islands to advance the Union Army in several battles.

After the war he became involved in political issues and was elected to represent a South Carolina district in the United States House of Representatives where he served five terms.

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