Section A: Identification and Evaluation of ResourcesThe Civil War was not the first western conflict that African-Americans were involved in.
Participation of African-Americans dated back to the Revolutionary War. In many occasions, African-Americans labored to help the causes of the British and patriots, and in some cases bore arms on both sides. When the war between the northern and southern states of America broke out during the spring of 1861, African-Americans were commonly involved in the war. The following investigation will answer the question, “How significant was the contribution of African-Americans in the Civil War?” This question is important to discuss because many of the African-American Civil War Veterans are not as recognized as white veterans because of the racial discrimination which colored the historical reporting of the past. The contribution of African-Americans to the war efforts of north and south during the spring of 1861 to the spring of 1865 will be evaluated and discussed.
The scope of their contributions to the northern and southern military, economy, and politics will also be evaluated and discussed. The investigation includes the an evaluation of the reference article, “African-Americans in the Union Army” written by Rolando Avila, which illustrates the importance of black regiments in the Union. In addition, a autobiography called, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave”, will be analyzed. One of the main sources that will be reviewed is the article “African-Americans in the Union Army”. The article was written by Rolando Avila, a history professor at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. His most recent book is Rio Grande Valley Civil War Trail: 40 Lesson Plans (2017).
This is an era in history that the author is known for, and he is currently finishing work on a companion volume tentatively titled, The Civil War Era and the Lower Rio Grande Valley: A Brief History (pending publication in 2018). The intent of Avila is to inform the public of the role of African-Americans in the Civil War. He recounts a more accurate historical view of the African-Americans participation during the war and highlights their bravery and courage. Avila also describes how northern abolitionists pressed for the right to allow black service in the war, which ultimately led to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. In addition, he explains the significance of the 54th regiment, which included black troops who showed the union their valuable military skills.
The source is valuable because it includes specific details of the northern military including statistics of the number of black troops. Because the article is mainly pro-African American in it’s perspective, it really does not address the counterpoints which argue that they were not a significant presence. Furthermore, there is no information about the African-American soldiers in the southern states. Another limitation is that it is a secondary source, which contains limited information about the specific primary accounts of the African-American soldiers. Overall, this document, though one sided, is effective in support for the social significance of the African-American participation. The second source that will be evaluated is Frederick Douglass’s autobiography entitled, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave”. The autobiography was published on the first of May in 1845. The text recounts his harsh experience of slavery in his childhood and his growing awareness of the war.
Frederick Douglass, a former slave, was diligently active in the politics of the Civil War. He became one of the most well known abolitionists during his time. For this work, Douglass’s main objectives were to abolish slavery and spread the recognition of the positive roles and contributions of African-Americans. The autobiography was not a simple retelling of Douglass’s life, but selective storytelling in order to further his political agenda of the radical Republicans.
Therefore, his autobiography is of limited perspective tainted by the authors own political leanings. Thus, counter arguments of that time supporting slavery was rarely acknowledged. Because of Douglass’s focus on abolition, the narratives are composed of bias against the white southerners.
Because this is one man’s account and retelling of his life, there is without question that there will be some limitations in the objectivity of the historical events and occurrences. The document is still beneficial to the research, because it contains several primary accounts including letters and photographs. It also valuable because not many freedmen created such extensive accounts, which included slave treatment and education. The article also provides information about the African-Americans roles in the military and politics. This will benefit the research centered around the militaristic and political aspects of their contribution.Part B: InvestigationThroughout American history, African-Americans have often been oppressed and discriminated against. Upon their arrival to America, they were taken against their will and forced to work as laborers. Many of the African-Americans were given no pay and often physically tortured.
African Americans fought for their freedom, and up until the Civil War, it was rarely given to them. In the spring of 1861, the escalated tension between the northern and southern states of America ignited the outbreak of war. During the civil war, approximately 200,000 African Americans, equaling 10% of the entire military force in the north, served in the Union military. 40,000 African Americans died fighting for the Union. As history has been reinterpreted through the years, views on African-American contribution towards the Civil War has changed significantly. In the early 1900s, white supremacy and discrimination against blacks were at an all time high. Because of the social climate, there was less recognition of the African American participation during the Civil War.
In contrast, in modern day history, people are better able to look at the Civil war through a more objective lens, and therefore, the contributions of the African Americans are more rightfully recognized and appreciated. It is important to understand the significance of the contributions made by African Americans in order to recognize the sacrifices made by many thousands of lives. Their contribution had a prominent impact on the civil war, and this can be seen in the northern and southern economies, the military, and politics. One aspect in which the African-American population contributed to the war was as an integral labor force for the economy of the northern states. Most often, these jobs involved many forms of manual labor. The northern economy flourished during the war because of the large number of African Americans that provided cheap labor for the industrialized north. In 1861, the North manufactured “17 times more cotton and woolen textiles than the South, 30 times more leather goods, 20 times more pig iron, and 32 times more firearms.
” Because of the north’s largely industrial economy, many African-Americans in cities were factory workers or other unskillful workers. Although the Northern Republicans were more opposed to slavery than the Southern Democrats, there was still slavery present in the north. Because of this war effort, the north had a thriving economy, which is evident in the large production of war materials and equipment. In Frederick Douglass’s autobiography, soon after he is freed from slavery, he finds a job as a manual laborer. In this job, he is barely able to sustain himself, and he describes his hands being “hardened by toil”. Through this account, it is apparent that such a job took a significant physical and emotional toll on the author. In order to make a living as a freedmen, Douglass worked tirelessly for numerous years, but this amount of work during that time period was common for African Americans.
It is now agreed that the workload carried by most African American laborers of that time was cruel and unreasonable. But, as a result of the hardworking and cheap labor of African Americans, the north gained economic advantage during the war.It was not just the northern states economy that benefited, but the southern economy was also largely based on African-American labor. In the south, African Americans aided in the construction of southern railroads. With the aid of slave labor, more railroads were opened, and it was through slave labor that the expansion of the railroad system was made possible.
This in turn continued to drive the plantation system by driving up the price of slaves, making available more interior lands for farming and cultivation, and expanding the cotton markets. The railroads also allowed for more mobility in the transport of weapons and other resources which had also been produced by the slave labor force. “Of the four million slaves working in the South in 1860, about one million worked in homes or in industry, construction, mining, lumbering or transportation. The remaining three million worked in agriculture, two million of whom worked in cotton”.
Also, the cotton industry was a major force in the economy of the south which required a large number of slave labor. This major resource provided the south with fabric textiles, which could be made into clothing. Again, this type of agriculture and industry would not have been possible without the large number of cheap labor force that the African Americans provided. In addition to aiding in the northern economy, African-Americans also contributed to the Union army. By the end of the war, the U.
S. Colored Troops (USCT) constituted approximately 10% of the Union Army. In 1862, Frederick Douglass, an African-American abolitionist, was very clear in his writings that the African-Americans were along the front lines of war exposed to real danger and real bullets. Besides their support in combat, African-Americans, in some cases, were also spies. Scott, a black soldier, became notable for his military intelligence gathered for the union army. He was well known for his exploits as a spy in discovering and exposing several Confederate companies, defended by an artillery battery.
(Goodheart). It is evident that African American participation in the war effort was noteworthy and in some instances very necessary. It was necessary not just for the whites but also for the blacks so that they could more appreciate the cost of their freedom. ‘Liberty won by white men would lose half its luster. Who would be free themselves must strike the blow’.
African-American enlistment was not as common in the confederate army as opposed to the union army. Although there were some cases of southern black men in combat, southern African-Americans helped more with other aspects of the Confederate war effort. Most often, this was not a willful participation in the war effort, but rather a continuation of forced labor.
The Virginia legislature passed a law in February 1862 authorizing the impressment of free black labor. These blacks were pressed to labor in the harsh and dangerous Confederate salt, iron, and lead mines. Majority of the laborers in these mines were blacks and supported the confederate war effort by producing raw materials to be used for the military.
“The immediate impressment of five thousand free Negroes and Slaves to work on the defences of Richmond & Danville” is an example of the African American contribution to the war “effort”. Even freed blacks were forced to now work to support the southern war effort.Even though they did not hold substantial political power due to their lack of voting rights, politically, African-Americans were aligned with the northern efforts to overthrow the slave economy. By supporting the Republican party, there was hope for equality. It was common belief that Northern politics and the “Yankees” represented the possibility of ending slavery or at the very least improvement of conditions and rights for slaves. It was in the African American people’s best interest to support the ideology of the north to ultimately improve their rights and liberties. In one letter, dated January 2, 1865, Taylor advocated for “equal privileges’ for black soldiers”. Confined at the headquarters of the 2nd U.
S. Colored Infantry on November 15, 1864, Commissary Sergeant James T. S.
Taylor, who was African-American, put pen to paper to write President Abraham Lincoln a letter in support of equal treatment of black soldiers in the army, setting precedence for equal rights and treatment in general society.Whether or not African-Americans were forced to work or volunteered to contribute during the civil war, it is clear that they made a significant impact. Without African-Americans in the north and the south, economic growth, vital combat advances, and support for the anti-slavery movement would not have been possible. Historically, African-American participation in the Civil War has been largely underrecognized. But it is important to correctly recognize the contributions and sacrifices made historically by the African Americans during the Civil War.
Section C:In this investigation, I researched the contribution of African-Americans during the American Civil War. More specifically, I examined the positive impact of the African-Americans on Northern and Southern economy, military, and politics. During my research, finding historical sources about the Southern African American participation in the military was somewhat difficult. Because many of the African-Americans were still enslaved to the Southern white landowners, they were not able to fight alongside the Confederates. Up until the end of the war, slaves were not allowed to bear arms. As a result of the rarity of southern black regiments, specifics on the accomplishments and failures of African-American participation were not well documented, and there were no real scholarly sources on this topic.
Through some effort, I did come across some valuable sources. This included the autobiography by Frederick Douglass called “Life and Times of Frederick Douglass”. This source chronicled the several significant events during the Civil War Era, which also included details of Douglass’s upbringing and contribution to the war effort. Not only did this source have a first hand account on the situation of black soldiers but it also included details of Douglass’s view on the situation of the war. As Douglass was one of the more prominent figures supporting abolition in history, this was an important and valuable source to contribute to my study.From the perspective of a historian, I tried to analyze and interpret the evidence from historical sources.
This involved research and investigation of sources that were reliable and credible. The validity and objectivity of the historical sources had to be accounted for and taken into consideration. Unlike science and math, historical accounts do not deal with hard numbers or laws that are not changeable. History is a recounting by people that are influenced by times and culture. Because of this “confirmation bias” that is universal, it is very difficult to know if a source is objective and reliable in historical recollections and memoirs.
Most often, as in the case of my study, history can be told and shaped by the current political or cultural climate. For a long time, African-American involvement in the Civil war was largely ignored. Only since the end of segregation in the United States and only in the past few decades, has the sacrifice and contribution of the blacks in the Civil war been brought to light. It is the job of the historian to try to present and report events that have occured in the past in the most objective, unbiased, and even way.
Though this is difficult, I believe with balanced research and putting aside as much of one’s own personal bias, that accurate reporting of what has happened is possible. Though often is it difficult to establish proof in history due to the past nature of history, I believe that with persistent searching and verification of sources and events, that there are more valid and accurate versions of history. I believe that it is the historian’s job not only to find and verify this version but also to report a balanced unbiased view of the past. Because of this, I believe that value judgements should be avoided as much as possible so as not to taint the recording and reporting of events that have occurred. The job of the historian is not to try to convince a reader but to inform.