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From Oppressed Slaves to Champion Soldiers
This is just a small example of the doubt and hatred that was bestowed on the African American soldiers. However, during the war, they proved themselves to be brave and courageous men on and off the battlefield on many occasions. Despite deep prejudices and harsh criticisms from the white society, these men were true champions of patriotism.
The cause of the Civil War was tension between the North and the South. The sectional division between the areas began in colonial times, largely resulting from geographical differences. The South was ideal for growing tobacco due to the warm climate and the fertile soil. Plantations brought in black slaves from Africa to provide most of the labor required for growing the crop. In time, other plantation crops such as cotton, sugar cane, indigo, and sugar beets were to thrive in the South. "By the onset of the Civil War, 2.4 million slaves were engaged in cotton production" (Long 16). A rural way of life that supported an agrian economy based on slave labor was quickly established in the South. The North, however, was a cooler, rockier climate that would not support the development of plantations. As a result, the North's economy came to depend more on trade and industry than on agriculture. This economy supported the growth of cities, although many lived in rural areas during the colonial period. The sectional division between North and South had widened enormously by the mid - 1800's. The United States had expanded all the way to the Pacific Ocean and was rapidly becoming a major industrial and commercial nation. However, industry and commerce were centered in the North. The Northerners welcomed modernization and the constant changes it brought to their way of life. Their ideals included hard work, education, economic independence, and the belief that the community had the right and responsibility to decide whether an action was moral or immoral. While Northerners looked forward to a different and better future, Southerners held the present and past dear. They enjoyed a prosperous agricultural economy based on slave labor and wished to keep their old way of life.
By the 1800's, northerners viewed slavery as wrong and began a movement to end it. Even though an antislavery minority existed in the South, most Southerners found slavery to be highly profitable and in time came to consider it a positive good. Such situations as the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act raised tensions between the North and the South. The Compromise of 1850 was a group of acts passed by Congress in the hope of settling the dreaded slavery question by satisfing both the North and South. The Compromise allowed slavery to continue where it desired, but the trading of slaves was prohibited in Washington DC. New territories would have the choice to decide whether to permit slavery or not. This act also required that the North return escaped slaves to their owners. The Kansas-Nebraska Act dealt with the problem of Slavery in new territories. This Act allowed slavery in Nebraska and Kansas. It also provided that when the people of each territory o! rganized as a state, they could decide by popular vote whether to permit slavery to continue. The Dred Scott Decision, where a slave claimed freedom because he had lived in a free state and territory for some time, was denied his freedom. The Supreme Court declared that no black could be a US citizen. The ruling aroused anger in the North and showed that the conflict over slavery was beyond judicial solutions. Another situation was the raid at Harpers Ferry. An abolitionist named John Brown and his followers attempted to start a slave rebellion by seizing the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Va. Brown, however, was captured 28 hours later by troops under the command of Colonel Robert E. Lee. Brown was convicted of treason and hanged two weeks later. Many Southerners saw the raid as evidence of a Northern plot to end slavery by force. During the election of 1860, Lincoln was chosen by the Republicans as their party candidate. The Democrats chose Douglas for their ticket. Lincoln won all electoral votes of every free state except New Jersey, which awarded him four of its seven votes. He thus gained a majority of electoral votes and won the election. However, Lincoln received less than 40 per cent of the popular vote, almost none of which came from the South. Southerners feared Lincoln would restrict or end slavery.
Before the 1860 presidential election, Southern leaders had urged that the South secede from the Union if Lincoln should win. Many Southerners favored secession as part of the idea that the states have rights and powers which the federal government cannot legally deny. The supporters of states' rights held that the national government was a league of independent states, any of which had the right to secede.
In December 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede. Five other states - Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana - followed in January 1861. In February, representatives from the six states met in Montgomery, Ala., and established the Confederate States of America. They elected Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as president and Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia as vice president. In March, Texas joined the confederacy. Lincoln was inaugurated two days later.
In his inaugural address, Lincoln avoided any threat of immediate force against the South. But he stated that the Union would last forever and that he would use the nation's full power to hold federal possessions in the South. One of the possessions, the military post of Fort Sumter, lay in the harbor of Charleston, SC. The Confederates fired on the fort on April 12 and forced its surrender the next day. Following the firing on Fort Sumter, Fredrick Douglass wrote a fiery editorial Nemesis:
At last our proud Republic is overtaken. Our National Sin has found us out. The National Head is bowed down, and our face is mantled with shame and confusion. No foreign arm is made bare for our chastisement. No distant monarch, offended at our freedom and prosperity, has plotted our destruction no envious tyrant has prepared for our necks his oppressive yoke. Slavery has done it all. Our enemies are those of our own household. It is civil war, the worst of all wars, that has unveiled its savage and wrinkled front among us. During the last twenty years and more, we have as a nation been forging a bolt for our own national destruction, collecting and augmenting the fuel that now threatens to wrap the nation in its malignant and furious flames. We have sown the wind, only to reap the whirlwind. Against argument, against all manner of appeal and remonstrances coming up from the warm and merciful heart of humanity, we have gone on like the oppressors of Egypt, hardenin! g our hearts and increasing the burdens of the American slave, and strengthening the arm of his guilty master, till now, in the pride of his giant power, that master is emboldened to lift rebellious arms against the very majesty of the law, and defy the power of the Government itself. In vain have we plunged our souls into new and unfathomed depths of sin, to conciliate the favor and secure the loyalty of the slave - holding class. We have hated and persecuted the Negro we have scourged him out of the temple of justice by the Dred Scott decision we have shot and hanged his friends at Harper's Ferry we have enacted laws for his further degradation, and even to expel him from the borders of some of our States we have joined in the infernal chase to hunt him down like a beast, and fling him into the hell of slavery we have repealed and trampled upon laws designed to prevent the spread of slavery and in a thousand ways given to increase the power and ascendancy of slavery ! over all departments of Government and now, as our reward, this slave-holding power comes with sword, gun, and cannon to take the life of the nation and overthrow the great American Government (Long 26). "There is no more moving and telling an expression of the Black's view of the Civil War than this" (Long 26).
On April 15, Lincoln called for Union troops to regain the fort. The South regarded the move as a declaration of war. Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee soon joined the Confederacy.
Virginia had long been undecided about which side to join. Its decision to join the Confederacy boosted Southern morale. Richmond, Virginia's capital, became the capital of the Confederacy in May.
It is ironic that only a few days before Fort Sumter was attacked, Douglass had agreed to make a trip to Haiti to investigate the possibility of emigration there by free Blacks at the invitation of the Haitian government. He had always been a strong foe of emigration and repatriation schemes, but the increasingly hostile environments for Blacks in the United States and the growing power of the slave-holders in the government worried him into exploring the option of emigration. (Long 27).
When the Civil War began, about 22 million people lived in the North. About 9 million people, including 3.5 million slaves, lived in the South. The North had around 4 million men from 15 through 40 years old - the approximate age range for combat duty. The South had only about 1 million white men from 15 through 40. The north began to use black soldiers in 1863. The South did not decide to use blacks as soldiers until the closing days of the war. From the very beginning of the war, it was obvious that many would lose their lives. As the war progressed, the death toll drastically increased. At the close of the year 1862, the military situation was discouraging to the supporters of the Federal Government. We had been repulsed at Fredericksburg and at Vicksburg, and at tremendous cost had fought the battle of Stone River. Some sixty-five thousand troops would be discharged during the ensuing summer and fall. Volunteering was at a standstill. On the other hand, the Confederates, having filled their ranks, were never better fitted for conflict. Politically, the opposition had grown formidable, while the so-called "peace-faction" was strong, and active for meditation. (Emilio 1). It was evident that more and more men would have to join the draft. But the wives of these soldiers did not want their husbands running off to war, just to be killed. More soldiers were need. Lincoln realized this, but did not want to use black soldiers because he did not want to bring the issue of slavery into the war. The war had began as an effort to save the union, and that is how Lincoln wanted to keep it.
When the Confederate batteries fired on Fort Sumter early on the morning of April 12, 1861, inaugurating four years of internecine warfare, many Negroes were eager to wear the Union blue. They found their services were neither wanted at that time nor contemplated in the future. (Leckie 3). At this time, most of the blacks living in the South were slaves and wanted to fight for the Union cause. "Many slaves saw their way to freedom in the armies of the North" (Long 26). Early in the war, Northern blacks who wanted to fight to end slavery tried to enlist in the Union Army. But the Army rejected them. Most whites felt the war was a "white man's war." Others felt that the blacks were not able to fight as well as the white soldiers. As Northern armies drove into Confederate territory, slaves flocked to Union camps. After a period of uncertainty, the Union government decided to allow them to perform support services for the Northern war effort. In time, as many as 200,000 blacks worked for Union armies as cooks, laborers, nurses, scouts, and spies. Black leaders, such as the former slave Frederick Douglass of New York, saw the Civil War as a road to emancipation for the slaves. However, the idea of emancipation presented problems in the North. For one thing, the Constitution recognized slavery. In addition, most Northerners - even though they may have opposed slavery - were
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