To tell the story of American soldiers without paying homage to Black soldiers would be a true injustice to storytelling. Black soldiers have proudly fought in every American war since the founding of this country, including the infamous Civil War.
The Civil War was such a turbulent time for soldiers in America, especially if you were Black. America was fighting itself for the fabric of its soul. For years, slavery seeped its way into the pores of every arm of nation-building, including the economy as well as politics.
Soldiers from the north were pitted against soldiers from the south in a war over if Black people could be owned–let that sink in. Still, even with those horrific precursors, Black people chose to serve this country.
By the end of the Civil War it was estimated that more than 200,000 Black men had served in the Union army and navy, the large majority of them former slaves. Black soldiers made up about 10% of the Union Army.
Although they fought the same as white soldiers, Black soldiers weren’t treated as equals by any stretch of the imagination. They were put into segregated regiments, got less pay, and had to report to white officers who rarely had their best interests at heart. But regardless of the situation, Black soldiers played a vital role in the Union defeating the Confederate army.
So what happened to these great heroes after the fighting was over?
According to the Library of Congress, it is estimated that one-third of all African Americans who enlisted lost their lives. After the war, the majority of troops who fought in the war were disbanded, including the United States Colored Troops (USCT). President Lincoln famously credited the Black soldiers saying, “Without the military help of the Black freedmen, the war against the South could not have been won.”
Reconstruction would follow the war and millions of newly freed Black Americans began to integrate into the country’s social, political, and labor systems.
But for Black soldiers living in the south, their terror didn’t end when the war did.
White southerners started rolling out terror tactics aimed at Black Veterans.
According to the New Yorker, white newspapers would spread rumors of black soldiers assaulting white police. States in the south also prohibited blacks from handling weapons. Former soldiers were assaulted, driven from their homes and lynched for public amusement. Black veterans would continue to experience targeted violence after World War I and World War II. After fighting valiantly for the country, some Black vets returned home to mistreatment and murder. More than dozens of dozens of Black veterans died at the hands of white mobs.
America has an ugly past that can’t be ignored. But regardless, Black people will continue to contribute to the growth and success of America, just as the Black vets from the Civil War did. The persecution didn’t make us less American and didn’t stop us from serving this country. Black soldiers from the Civil War deserve all the love and admiration we can give them.