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Research Paper

In the history of the United States, African Americans have always been
discriminated against. When Africans first came to America, they were taken
against their will and forced to work as laborers. They became slaves to
the rich, greedy, lazy Americans. They were given no pay and often badly
whipped and beaten. African Americans fought for their freedom, and up
until the Civil War it was never given to them. When the Civil War began,
they wanted to take part in fighting to free all slaves. Their opportunity
to be soldiers and fight along side white men equally did not come easily,
but eventually African Americans proved themselves able to withstand the
heat of battle and fight as true American heroes. The road to freedom from
slavery was a long and hard for the African Americans. In the northern
states the Civil War began as a fight against the succession of the
Confederate states from the Union. Abraham Lincoln, who was President at
this time, wanted to save the nation by bringing the southern states back
to the Union, but this “Great Emancipator” ironically did not have much
intention of freeing the slaves. His greatest interest lies in preventing a
war from occurring. However, even he could not stop the outbreak of the
Civil War (Fincher). With the war just beginning, ex-slaves and other
African Americans wanted to get in on the action. They wanted to fight
against those who had enslaved them and their families for generations.

They began volunteering and trying to enlist, but everywhere they went they
were rejected. “In general, white soldiers and officers believed that black
men lacked the courage to fight and fight well” (History of African-
Americans in the Civil War). Even some abolitionists believed putting them
in the battlefield would be putting African Americans higher than they
should be. They said that though blacks should not be enslaved, they should
not be equal to the white male. The African Americans, however, refused to
give up their fight to be allowed to defend their country with pride.

Pressure from blacks eager to fight, from abolitionists and from a few Army
officers who needed men, as well as changing circumstances, eventually
altered Lincoln’s policy. Along the way, convoluted legal questions
involving the Constitution and slaves as property had to be got around
(Fincher).

President Lincoln was being bombarded with pressure to let free African
Americans fight in the war. At the same time, pressure to abolish slavery
was put on the President. Finally, in the summer of 1862, with the
realization that the war would not be won without the end of slavery,
Lincoln drew up the Emancipation Proclamation (Fincher). This document
freed slaves in all areas who rebelled against the Union. This began a
rippling effect to many other aspects of the war and led to the enlistment
of African Americans in the Union Army and Navy. On July 17, 1862, Congress
“repealed an act of 1792 barring black men from serving in state militia”
(Smith 308). A new Militia Act permitted the enlistment of free black men
and ex-slaves. Now after the long hard fight to be allowed to serve in the
Union Army, African Americans would finally have their chance to prove
themselves as worthy soldiers. They would serve America proudly and fight
to free their fellow brothers who were still enslaved. Enrollment began in
September of 1862 (Allen 225). Thousands of black men enlisted. They would
be commanded, led, and trained by all white officers. There were not to be
any black officers commissioned and all African American soldiers were to
be regarded as laborers. They would receive less pay than a white soldier.

Instead of $13 plus clothing expenses, they would only receive $10 without
clothing expenses (The American Civil War: A Multicultural Encyclopedia
55). When word of African Americans enlisting in the Union Army got out,
the Confederate Army lashed out many threats. They …warned that Union
officers recruiting and arming slaves were ‘outlaws’ and would be subject
to execution as felons when President Davis gave the order. And all ‘slaves
captured in arms’ would be handed to state officials (Allen). These
soldiers would be treated like fugitives and would face life imprisonment
or the death penalty (Smith 307). However, this did not stop African
Americans from flocking to enlist. It was hard enough dealing with the
Confederates threats of execution, but African American soldiers were
constantly being discriminated against by many of the white soldiers in the
Union Army. They refused to consider the idea of fight along