As far back as the American Revolution, Negroes, Colored People, Blacks, and African Americans have fought in every conflict this country has been engaged in.- Did you know that 20% of the people who died in the Boston Massacre were black?-
Can you say Crispus Attucks? Sure ya can.
To be fair, white people have also fought in every conflict this country has been engaged in, too.- They usually start them.- To deny that would be a perversion of history.- And I'm sure that folks like Pat Buchanan wouldn't condone perversion in any form (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).-
I hear tell that last night on MSNBC, Uncle Pat said 100% of the people who died at Gettysburg and Vicksburg were White.- That is ridiculous.- Plenty of black men fought and died on both sides of the Civil War.- You read that right.- There were Confederate black soldiers. There were also Union black soldiers.- Quite a lot of both were at Gettysburg.
Mythology aside, the truth is the Civil War was a hell of a lot less popular in the North than it was in the South, especially among recently-arrived white immigrants.- Whites in both the North and South were often resentful about being drafted to fight in "Mr. Lincoln's War"... remember the New York City Draft Riots? White hooligans rampaged through the city for days. It required the imposition of martial law and public executions of rioters to quell that mess. Black people, on the other hand, were eager to enlist. Frederick Douglass, a US MARSHAL HIMSELF, was a strong advocate for allowing black men to fight. He made the explicit argument that this would be how black men could show they were worthy of the right to vote.
"Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship." Frederick Douglass
Let's return to Gettysburg for a moment.- Lee's incursion into Pennsylvania did a wonderful job of overcoming that state's resistance to raising black troops.- Plenty of them fought and died at Gettysburg.- Hell, they died in droves in battlefields across the nation.- One example that recently got a lot of renewed attention due to the movie "Glory" was the story of the Massachussetts 54th Regiment.-
The Massachusetts 54th regiment consisted of freed blacks recruited in the North; they were led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the son of ardent Boston abolitionists. Shaw had to argue with his commander in order for his men to have a chance to fight. On July 18, 1863, Shaw led the 54th in an assault against Fort Wagner, which guarded Charleston, South Carolina. Under heavy fire, a small group of these troops broke through the Fort's earthworks and for an hour held the parapet, until Confederates drove them back. Shaw and almost half of his troops were killed in the assault, but the tragic incident showed that black troops would fight well and bravely if given a chance.And they weren't the only ones.- By the time Lee reached Gettysburg, 10% of the Union Army was black.- A lot of them were used in support roles, but many of them did fight.- They were often the most highly motivated, good reason:
When they did fight they faced not only the prospect of being killed or maimed in battle, but also the prospect of being executed if they were captured by Confederate forces. The Confederates declared that all black men fighting for the Union were rebel slaves, regardless of whether they were actually former slaves or had been born free, and frequently executed them. With sorrow, Lincoln responded that he would have to execute southern prisoners of war, if the south executed any Union prisoners. For the most part Lincoln's threat paid off, but captured black soldiers were treated more harshly by the Confederates than were white Union soldiers.
By the war's end 40,000 black soldiers had died, like many deaths in the days before antibiotics, the majority of these men died from disease. Twenty three black soldiers were given the Medal of Honor for their heroic service in the Civil War.
They may not have been any black Union soldiers at the start of the Civil War, but they were there at the end, at Appomattox.
There were seven Black units (approximately 2,000 men, or 3% of the Federal force) which made the journey all the way to Appomattox Court House with Major General Edward Ord's Union Army of the James and arrived in time to be involved in the final fighting.
On their way they passed through the settlements of Blacks & Whites, Nottoway Court House, Burkeville Junction, Rice's Station, and Farmville. From the latter point they stayed south of the Appomattox River and traveled via Walker's Church (present day Hixburg) to Appomattox. These regiments were of Colonel William W. Woodward's brigade, the 29th and 31st U.S.C.T., along with the 116th U.S.C.T., assigned to them from another brigade. Colonel Ulysses Doubleday's brigade, 8th, 41st, 45th, and 127th U.S.C.T., were also present.