History of Blacks in the Military

Once Lincoln took the oath of office, Frederick Douglas encouraged Lincoln to free the slaves and to give them a chance to fight for their freedom. The war broke out shortly after Lincoln’s inauguration on April 12, 1861, when the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter. However, Lincoln was hesitant to make the war about slavery. He didn’t want the border states to secede so preferred to save the Union.

In August of 1861, Congress tackled the issue of the black man and passed the First Confiscation Act which stated that any enslaved person who worked or who fought for the Confederate military were free from their masters. Eleven months later, Congress passed two laws. The first was the Second Confiscation Act stated that slaves belonging to Confederate citizens and military officers were free. In essence, this freed the slaves in the South and Lincoln’s proclamation wasn’t necessary. However, this law was only enforced if the Union held the territory in question. The second, the Militia Act allowed the government to accept black men into the military but did not specify conditions to do that.

In January 1863, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation which gave freedom to any black man living in the Confederacy. Obviously, unless the Union held the area, this proclamation couldn’t be enforced.

Kansas was the first state to recruit and train soldiers into their state militia. In 1862, Kansas state senator, James Lane recruited black soldiers and called their brigade the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry. Two months later, 225 black soldiers defeated 500 Confederates at the Battle of Island Mound. That battle proved the men’s desire to fight courageously. Once Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, black men could join the military, and the United States welcomed these troops into the military as the 79th United States Colored Troops.

The 1st South Carolina Colored Infantry was one of the first black troops mustered into the Union army as the 33rd United States Colored Troops. General Rufus Sexton had organized the volunteers who were former slaves from South Carolina and Georgia. While they didn’t participate in any huge battles, they succeeded in numerous raids along the Florida and Georgia coast. Harriett Tubman cooked for them, but she also served as a cook and spy. Susan Taylor King joined them in 1862 as a laundress and nurse.

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