Black Soldiers Who Served in the Civil War May Receive Congressional Honors

Their sacrifice was heroic, rushing into the barrel of a gun on the battlefields of the Civil War. Free black men from the North took up arms while their family members remained enslaved in the South. They wrote of hope in letters to their wives.

Black troops played an important role in the Civil War, a key role that has been preserved in photographs and service records. But historians say their contributions have not yet been properly honored. More than 150 years after the Civil War ended, two Democratic lawmakers want to fix that.

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, the President’s equivalent of the Medal of Freedom, to approximately 200,000 black soldiers and marines fought for the union.

The first recipient of the medal was George Washington for “wise and spiritual conduct” in 1776 during the siege and recapture of Boston. Other recipients have rescued Titanic survivors, flew polar routes, composed patriotic songs, or led armies during World War I.

Black warriors in other wars have received medals, including Tuskegee Airmenthe Montford Point Marines and the Harlem Hell Soldiers, who were Commemorating the Black Soldier Regiment in the First World War.

But it has not yet been dedicated to the Black Army in the Civil War.

“Despite the loss of their lives and limbs, the hundreds of thousands of African-Americans who fought for the Union in the Civil War were forgotten in the nation’s historic memory,” Ms Norton said in a statement.

If Congress approves the proposal and President Biden signs it, the medal will show the nation’s appreciation for the boxers’ achievements. Douglas Egerton, a historian at Le Moyne University in Syracuse, NY, said it would highlight “exemplary service to the United States.”

“It’s a great idea because it will remind Americans of this contribution,” he said.

Their regiments were known as the United States Army of Color. It was not an easy introduction. Dr. Egerton said Northern Democrats opposed the idea of ​​black men. They suffered from racism and were paid less than white soldiers. But as the Union’s manpower needs grew and more and more Black units took to the front lines, they proved their bravery in key battles, Dr. Egerton said.

In the North, the first official Black regiments were organized in Massachusetts in 1863: the 5th Cavalry and the 54th and 55th regiments. In the battle at Fort Wagner in South Carolina in 1863, their bravery. somewhat eroded resistance to black fighters joining the federal ranks. They leave their families, shed blood and fight diseases.

Some have won medals for bravery.

The 54th Regiment commenced its assault on Fort Wagner on 18 July. Under the command of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the white man, the men sped up to the beach, encountering “aggressive” fire. fierce” of the Union, and kept running, Dr. Egerton said.

One was William H. Carney. Born into slavery in Norfolk, Va., In 1840, he and his father escaped and moved north to Massachusetts, where he joined the regiment. At Fort Wagner, he snatched the flag from an injured guard and tried to advance to plant it on the railing.

Credit…Library of Congress

Dr Egerton said: “He was literally crawling on his hands and knees about half a mile.

As Union forces withdrew, Mr. Carney, who had press on his wound with one hand After being shot, bring the flag back to your regiment. “Boys, I did my duty; Dear old flag that never touched the ground! ” he say.

About 179,000 Black soldiers served, or about 10% of the Union force, and about 19,000 served in the Navy. They joined as freemen in the North, or after fleeing slavery.

Joseph Glatthaar, a distinguished professor of history at the University of North Carolina, says between 140,000 and 150,000 were previously enslaved. They had lower salaries and equipment and little chance of promotion to the high ranks held by white officers.

Dr Glatthaar said: ‘They don’t have much training and when it comes to fighting, they can’t be seen as cowards and end up taking risks to prove themselves not cowardly. “They lost large numbers in the war, and did so in the face of discrimination.”

Their voices and images are preserved in photographs, letters, military service record and other documents at the National Archives. Some took portraits in their uniforms, sitting against painted backdrops.

Enslaved people had little chance of formal education, but the writings of Black soldiers reflected their hopes for the Confederate effort.

Samuel Cabble, who escaped slavery and joined the 55th regiment at the age of 21, written from Massachusetts to his slave wife, saying he wanted to “break the system” that oppressed her. “Wonderful is the outpouring of lions now rallying the hearts of lions against the very curse that has separated you from me,” he wrote.

“However, we will see each other again,” he wrote, “and oh it will be a happy time.”

Bookmovie, monument and Museum highlighted the Black’s role in the Civil War. 1989 movie”glory“Captured the battle of Fort Wagner.

During the Battle of Port Hudson, La., Theo a report by the New York Times from that battlefield in 1863, they “fought with great despair and brought it all before them. They must be restrained for fear that they will go too far without support. They have shown that they can and will fight well.”

Fourteen people were awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery in The battle for high position in the new market in 1864, when two brigades – consisting of members facing their former enslavers – attacked Confederate fortifications and were forced to retreat.

Men who escaped slavery in the Cape Fear region and joined the ranks of the Confederacy suffered casualties in Battle of Forks Road, part of the 1865 campaign to capture the port of Wilmington, NC, and cut off supplies to Robert E. Lee’s army. In 1865, the Blacks were the first Confederate soldiers to capture Richmond, Va., from the Confederates, resulting in a final Confederate victory.

Black women, including Harriet Tubman, worked for the Union army as a nurse, spy, and scout. “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.

Credit…Library of Congress

One of them was Susie King Taylor, who was born into slavery in Georgia. In 1862, Union forces captured Fort Pulaski, and her family escaped in the chaos, eventually reaching Beaufort, SC, where the South Carolina Volunteer Infantry Division 1 was formed.

She joined as a “laundry”, she wrote in her memoirsbut also maintained a gun, learned to “shoot straight and often on target,” and served as a nurse.

“It is strange our aversion to seeing the sufferings of war,” she writes, “how can we see the worst of scenes, such as men ravaged and carried by deadly shells without shivering; And instead of turning away, how quickly can we come to their aid to ease their pain, bandage their wounds and pour cool water on their parched lips, with only sympathy and compassion. harmful”.

Liberation and citizenship are interwoven with military servicea concept marked by Frederick Douglasswho became instrumental in the recruitment of Blacks and their sons, Charles and Lewis, fought with the Massachusetts regiments.

“Once you let the Negro put on him the letters in US bronze, let him wear an eagle on his button, and a muskets on his shoulder and bullets in his chest. pocket him, and no power on earth can deny that he has earned citizenship in the United States,” he said.

But even after years of service, Black soldiers still grapple with discrimination and unemployment, what Dr. Pinheiro calls “a continuation of racism even after serving in service.” literally everything.”

Some have no records from slave childhoods of exact names, places and dates of birth, illustrating the “whole of problems” that persisted throughout their lives. The pension application, he said, revealed that struggle.

One was Zachary T. Fletcher, who was born into slavery in McCracken County, Ky., and later served in the military. In 1864 he applied for a pension for his service with the words: “I was brought up as a slave, I have no record of my age, and if so, I know nothing of it. “

Such records are, at least, “allowing their voices to be heard,” Dr. Pinheiro said. “They’re allowing that black man’s military service to happen.” Black Soldiers Who Served in the Civil War May Receive Congressional Honors

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