During the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and part of theNineteenth Century the White people of North America used theBlack people of Africa as slaves to benefit their interests. Whitepeople created a climate of superiority of their race over the BlackAfrican race that in some places, still lingers on today. TheAmerican Civil War however, was a key turning point for theBlack African race. Through their actions and the political actionsof President Lincoln and his administration, Black Africans set apresedent for their freedom, equality and liberation.A very important aspect of Blacks proving themselves wasthat of the Black Man acting as a soldier in the Civil War. Duringthe Civil War the official decision to use Blacks as soldiers in theUnion Army was a slow gradual process and a series of strategicpolitical decisions. The actual use of Blacks as soldiers in theUnion Army was completed by a series of actions the Black Manperformed that won him the respect of becoming a soldier. Thetwo differ in that it was to President Lincoln's benefit to enlistBlacks as soldiers when he did. Whereas the later was the BlackMan's will to fight for his freedom and prove himself as an equalhuman being. However, because the Black population was barredfrom entering the army under a 1792 law(4) the Black Manbecoming a soldier was not officially recognized until late 1862. "There was strong anti-Black prejudice among most peoplein the free states, and in the loyal slave states the idea of arming theBlack man was anthema"(1). This statement directly reflects thegenerally held fear White people had about putting Blacks on thefighting line of the armies in the Civil War. Whites felt that theCivil War was a war started upon the White Man's issues and whatpossible reason would the Black Man have for wanting to fight inthis war. On the contrary The Black Man saw The Civil War as anopportunity to win freedom and gain respect(2). Blacks in theNorth who were free from slavery willingly pledged their serviceto fight in the Union Army however, their allegiance was deniedby President Lincoln on political grounds. Lincoln realized thatthe issue of Black soldiers would be intolerable by the public andwould not be accepted. Initially, the Union Army utilizedNorthern Blacks from the free states to relieve Whites from dailytasks that were essential to maintain the armies, thus freeing upWhite soldiers for battle. As the Union Armies began to movefurther into Confederate territory however, they encountered manyrunaway slave Blacks. These Blacks were the ones thatcontributed most to the Union effort. This was true for two reasons.First, there were many more Blacks in the South compared to theNorth, roughly four million compared to two hundred thousand.Secondly, the Black people in the South had more at stake, oncethey left the Confederate side to join The Union there was noturning back. Not only would they be deemed as trators butrunaways as well and were likely to face death if they wherecaught.(3)In the beginning, when Union Armies would encounterrunaway slaves they would either hold them until their ownerretrieved them or they would return these people to the proper
Confederate Officials(1). This became a major burden to theUnion. Many generals did not want to be regarded as "slavecatchers" they realized their duty to be much more. Because of thisobstacle many Commanders enlisted the runaway Blacks for theirservices without the consent of the Lincoln Administration. Oneinstance in particular, a precedent was set that would change thepolicy of using Blacks in the Union army. Brig. Gen. BenjaminButler had encountered several runaway slaves. When AConfederate Officer under a flag of truce had come to retrieve theslaves, Butler refused on the grounds that slaves used by theConfederate Army during war was no different than the use ofmachinery or any other tool to aid in their progress. Therefore, theSlaves would be considered contraband just as any other toolwould be(2). Shortly after this precedent was set The LincolnAdministration passed The Confiscation Act which stated that allBlacks encountered in confederate territory were to be taken in andused at the Commanders descretion(1). This proved to be a greathelp to the Union Army while a huge blow to the Confederates. The Union was gaining manpower in direct proportion to theConfederates loosing it. This alone played a huge factor in thesuccess of the Union Armies.Eventually the confiscation of southern slaves began topresent a problem for the Union. The amount of Blacks fleeingfrom the Confederate side began to overwhelm the Union Armies. There were so many Blacks fleeing from the Confederate side thatUnion Armies soon had more people than they knew what to dowith. The Union Armies had to find a place for these people, soconsequently a decision had to be made. Many of the men andmost all of the women and children were put to use on desertedConfederate plantations. Of coarse there was always a threat ofConfederate rebels attacking these once owned plantations andretrieving their slaves, so the Union allocated soldiers to protectthese plantations. This proved to become a real asset for TheUnion. Not only where they commandeering new land andmoving further into Confederate territory, The Union utilized thisrich land and labor to supply it's armies with foodstuffs and otherresources.(3)As the use of Blacks became more commonplace in theUnion Armies their position began to evolve. Many Generalsprematurely began to use the Black Man as a soldier. Withoutconsent from Washington these Generals armed the Black Man andput them into a soldiers position. This action was not supported byLincoln and in fact looked down upon. However, this began tohappen throughout many of the Union Armies and became soprevalent that Lincoln could not ignore it(1). Lincoln was caughtbetween a rock and a hard place. On one hand the reality wasobvious that the war was not going to end and that the UnionArmies needed more man power. On the other, Lincoln knew thatthe public was not ready to see the Black Man armed and used as asoldier. Being the keen politician that Lincoln was he made asmall step towards the inevitable. Lincoln declared a "generalarming" could be used to employ the Blacks in security measuresso they could further protect the lines of the Union Armies(1).This was the official beginning in the progression of the BlackMan to becoming a soldier in the Civil War.