Black soldiers who fought in the Civil War may receive

Black soldiers who fought in the Civil War may receive a congressional award

Their sacrifices were heroic, throwing themselves into gunfights on the battlefields of the Civil War. Free black men from the north took up arms while their family members were still in slavery in the south. They wrote about hope in letters to their wives.

Black troops played a significant role during the Civil War, which is preserved in photographs and service records. But historians say their contributions have not been properly recognized. More than 150 years after the end of the Civil War, two Democratic lawmakers want to fix it.

This month, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia introduced a bill that would award the Congressional Gold Medal, equivalent to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to the roughly 200,000 black servicemen and sailors who fought for the Union.

The first recipient of the medal was George Washington for his “wise and energetic conduct” in 1776 at the siege and capture of Boston. Other recipients rescued Titanic survivors, flew the polar routes, composed patriotic songs, or led troops in World War I.

Black fighters in other wars received the medal, including Tuskegee Airmen, Montford Point Marines and the Harlem Hellfighters, who were the most illustrious regiment of black soldiers during the First World War.

But it has yet to be dedicated to the black forces in the Civil War.

“Despite the sacrifice of life and limb, the hundreds of thousands of African Americans who fought for the Union in the Civil War are largely erased from the nation’s historical memory,” Ms Norton said in a statement.

If Congress approves the proposal and President Biden signs it, the medal will signify national recognition for the fighters’ accomplishments. Douglas Egerton, a historian at Les Moines College in Syracuse, New York, said it would highlight “exemplary service to the United States.”

“This is a great idea because it will remind Americans of this contribution,” he said.

Their regiments were called US Colored Troops. It was not a simple acquaintance. According to Dr. Egerton, Northern Democrats opposed the idea of ​​blacks under guns. They faced racism and were paid less than white soldiers. But as Union manpower requirements grew and more black units moved to the front lines, they proved their mettle in key battles, Dr. Egerton said.

In the North, the first official black regiments were organized in Massachusetts in 1863: the 5th Cavalry, 54th, and 55th Regiments. At the Battle of Fort Wagner in South Carolina in 1863, their courage partly undermined the resistance of black fighters joining the federal ranks. They left families, shed blood and fought disease.

Some received medals for bravery.

The 54th Regiment launched an assault on Fort Wagner on 18 July. According to Dr. Egerton, under the command of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who was white, the men ran up the beach, meeting “violent” Confederate fire, and kept running.

One of them was William H. Carney. He was born into slavery in Norfolk, Virginia in 1840. He fled with his father and moved north to Massachusetts, where he joined the regiment. At Fort Wagner, he snatched the flag from a wounded guard and tried with all his might to set it up on the parapet.

William H. Carney was the first black person to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. Credit… Library of Congress.

“He literally crawls on all fours for about half a mile,” Dr. Egerton said.

When the Union forces retreated, Mr. Carney, who was pressing the wound with one hand after the execution, he carried the banner to his regiment. “Boys, I have only done my duty; dear old flag never touched the ground! he said.

About 179,000 black soldiers, or about 10 percent of Union forces, served, and about 19,000 served in the Navy. They joined as free people in the North or after fleeing slavery.

Joseph Glattaar, eminent professor of history at the University of North Carolina, said that between 140,000 and 150,000 people were previously enslaved. They had lower wages and equipment, and little opportunity to advance to the high ranks held by white officers.

“They don’t train very well and when thrown into a fight they can’t afford to be seen as cowards and end up taking risks to prove they are not cowardly,” Dr. Glattaar said. “They lost a huge number of people in the war, and they did it in the face of discrimination.”

Their voices and images are preserved in photographs, letters, military lists and other documents in the National Archives. Some posed for portraits in uniform, sitting against painted backdrops.

Enslaved people had little opportunity for formal education, but letters from black soldiers reflected their hopes for Union efforts.

Samuel Kebble, who escaped slavery and joined the 55th at age 21, wrote from Massachusetts to his enslaved wife, saying that he wants to “crush the system” that oppresses her. “A great outpouring of colored people who now unite with the hearts of lions against the very curse that separated you and me,” he wrote.

“And yet we shall meet again,” he wrote, “and oh, what a happy time it will be.”

Booksfilms, memorials as well as museums emphasized the role of black troops in the Civil War. 1989 film”Glorycaptured the battle of Fort Wagner.

At the Battle of Port Hudson, Louisiana, according to New York Times report from that battlefield in 1863 they “fought with great desperation and carried everything in their path. They had to be restrained, fearing that they would go too far without support. They have shown that they can and will fight well.”

Fourteen were awarded the Medal of Honor for their courage in Battle for New Market Heights in 1864, when two brigades, including members, clashed with the people who had once enslaved them, stormed the Confederate fortifications and forced them to retreat.

The men who escaped from slavery in the Cape Fear region and joined the ranks of the Union suffered losses in Battle of Forks Road, part of an 1865 campaign to capture the port of Wilmington, North Carolina and cut off supplies to Robert E. Lee’s army. In 1865, black troops were the first Union soldiers to capture Richmond, Virginia from the Confederates, leading to an eventual Union victory.

Black women, including Harriet Tubman, worked in the Union troops as nurses, spies and scouts. “Black women have always been an integral part of the war effort,” said Holly Pinheiro, Jr., assistant professor of African American history at Furman University.

Susie King Taylor served as a nurse for over three years in the 33rd US Colored Infantry Regiment. Officially registered as a laundress, she also taught children and adults to read while serving in the regiment. Credit… Library of Congress

One of them was Susie King Taylor, who was born into slavery in Georgia. In 1862, Union forces took Fort Pulaski and her family fled in chaos, ending up in Beaufort, South Carolina, where the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry had been raised.

She joined as a “laundress”, she wrote in her memoirsbut she also kept guns, having learned to “shoot accurately and often hit the target”, and served as a nurse.

“It seems strange how our aversion to suffering is overcome in war,” she wrote, “how we can see without shudder the most disgusting sights, such as people with limbs torn off and mutilated by deadly projectiles; and instead of turning away, how we hurry to relieve their pain, bandage their wounds and press cool water to their parched lips with a feeling of only sympathy and pity.

Emancipation and citizenship were intertwined with military serviceconcept highlighted Frederick Douglaswho was instrumental in recruiting blacks and whose sons, Charles and Lewis, fought with the Massachusetts regiments.

“One day, let a black man put on the brass letters USA, have an eagle on a button, a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pockets, and there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States,” – he said.

But even after years of service, black soldiers struggled with discrimination and unemployment, which Dr. Pinheiro called “the continuation of racism even after he gave literally everything.”

Some did not have records from their enslaved childhoods with accurate names, places, and dates of birth, illustrating the “whole layer of problems” that persisted throughout their lives. This struggle is evidenced in particular by applications for pensions, he said.

One of them was Zachary T. Fletcher, who was born into slavery in McCracken County, Kentucky and later served in the military. In 1864, he applied for a service pension with the words: “I, having been brought up as a slave, have no information about my age, and if I do, I know nothing about it.”

Recordings like this at least “allow you to hear their voices,” Dr. Pinheiro said. “They admit that black military service took place.”