Nov 7, 2019 in Politics

The Civil War

The American Civil War, more commonly referred to as Civil War, is a war regarded by many as the central event in the American history. The war, fought in the years 1861-1865, played a crucial role in determining what kind of nation America would be. Through the major events that took place before, during and after the war, America changed as a nation. Even though the 1776-1783 Revolution was responsible for the creation of the United States, a gap of test was left unfilled. The gap raised two very crucial questions. Firstly, there was a question of whether the United States was capable of remaining as one whole nation with only one sovereign government or whether it was dissolvable into lesser confederation comprised of individual or group states. And the second question was whether the United States that had been formed earlier with a declaration stating that all men were equally created with a right to freedom, would continue owning slaves. Such two fundamental issues were the main reasons for the war that claimed more than 600,000 American lives. Current essay will indulge in detailing and discussing what exactly caused the war, the events that majorly shaped the war and relevance to black participation in it.

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The American Civil War was fought between two parties, the Union States and the Confederate States. The two sides had uncompromising differences in questions regarding slavery and ownership of slaves. As a result, the matter separated the two sides, which failed to develop terms over the power held by the national government on the issue of slave ownership, whereby the national government prohibited slavery in regions that had to become states. The Confederate States did not support the idea of releasing their slaves, as well as not buying, selling or owning them. Moreover, they could not agree with the thought that they would now be considered as equals and treated as equals with former slaves in accordance to the new law. On November 6th, 1860, Republican member Abraham Lincoln was elected to become the first Republican president and 16th president of the USA having received 40% of the popular vote and 180 of the possible 303 electoral votes. Earlier, Lincoln had declared that, “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free...". By doing so, Lincoln had declared war on slavery, hoping to eradicate any form of slavery in the United States and, in turn, starting a contradictory war with the states that were opposed to such new rules. A month after Lincoln’s election on 20th December, 1860, the state of South Carolina seceded from the Union. Other states followed suit, including Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Mississippi. The seven states which separated from the Union formed what was to be known as the Confederacy, having its own constitution and plans to become an independent nation. On February 9th, 1861, Jefferson Davis took presidency of the Confederacy, while Lincoln took office of the presidency on March 4th, 1861. 

The event that has actually started the war was an attack by the Confederate States at Fort Sumter on the bay of Charleston on April 1861, forcing the surrender of federal troops to confederate troops. Following the attack, Lincoln declared the Confederate States guilty of “insurrections” and demanded that the rebellion be destroyed by the federal troops. After such triumphant win over the Union other states chose to join the confederacy and their doctrines, including Arkansas, Virginia and Tennessee. States, such as North Carolina also seceded from the Union but, however, chose to remain neutral. On July 21, the war continued and the first battle took place near Manassas, Virginia. During the battle, General Joseph E. Johnston of the confederate defeated union’s General Irvin McDowell. The battle became popularly called the Bull Run or Battle of Manassas. Following his defeat, McDowell was replaced by George B. McClellan. During that period, Lincoln was also making necessary steps to ensure that the war with the south was won. They included issuing a blockade in order to limit the south with supplies and convincing Congress to authorize 500,000 men to fight by his side.

As fighting continued more African American men were involved in both side’s armies to boost their strength. Before the war approximately 4 million slaves resided in the United Sates, less than 500,000 of these men and women were free people. Majority of slaves lived in the Confederate States with only less than 1% of them living in the North. However, as war continued, more African Americans began to serve in the army, approximately 180,000 of them in the 163 units that were a part of the Union army and thousand in the navy. The South, on the other hand, which had more African Americans than the North, only began recruiting blacks in their army after 1865. It was only after General Robert E. Lee direly urged the Confederate Congress to allow African American and other freedmen to serve in their army even though they were given lesser roles. The registration process allowing both African American and other freedmen to serve in their army involved acquiring both the master’s and slave’s consent. 

On January 31st, 1862, President Lincoln ordered General War Order No. 1, in which all land and naval forces would advance on the confederate. The Union’s first victory came when Gen. Ulysses S. Grant captured two forts in Cumberland and Tennessee, thus forcing the confederates out of Kentucky and much of Tennessee. On July 17, 1862, the Second Confiscation and Militia Act was passed allowing for African American to enlist themselves in the Union Party. Even though Lincoln had feared that arming slaves and freedmen would force more Union states to secede, he concluded that there was growing need for men to fight in the war. It was caused by the fact that the number of volunteers from the White community was reducing and that African Americans were more than eager to participate and fight. African Americans in New Orleans formed the First, Second and Third Louisiana Native Guard (later called the 73rd, 74th and 75th United States Colored Infantry) that were parts of the National Guard Unit. Other participations in the war included First Kansas Colored Infantry that fought in October 1862 (the unit was later called the 79th United States Colored Infantry), First South Carolina Infantry of African descent (later called the 33rd United States Colored Infantry) that fought in November 1862. 

The first official call for the black soldiers to participate in the war was made in February 1863 when Massachusetts’ abolitionist Governor John A. Andrew made the official statement. More than 1000 men turned up for service, which later formed the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment though led by a white man. The infringement led an all-black infantry attack on Fort Wagner but were, however, outnumbered and outgunned by the confederate soldiers and defeated. The Union was reluctant in using black men as soldiers initially mainly due to racism, lack of bravery and skill. As a result, they regarded them as teamsters, scouts, guards, cooks and carpenters. After the January 1st, 1863, Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation, which emphasized the freeing of all slaves held in the Confederate States and the enlisting of the blacks and freedmen in the Union army. In turn, the blacks were treated more harshly by the confederates. Black soldiers alongside with any of their officers who were captured during battle, according to Confederate President Jefferson Davis, faced the choice of enslavement or immediate execution.

Black soldier played a role in fighting for equal pay during the war, as well. On average the black soldier would receive an estimated weekly salary of $10 (excluding clothing allowance), while the white soldier on his end received $3 more (inclusive of clothing allowance). Hoping to achieve equality for all, Congress passed a bill in 1864 which required that all soldiers, whether black or white, had to receive equal forms of payments. The war continued with both sides suffering victories or defeats until April 9, 1865, when Confederate Gen Lee, refused allowing his soldiers suffer and submitted his surrender to Union’s general Grant. Surrendered soldiers from the Confederate side were awarded generous terms for their surrender. By 1865 when the war ended, approximately 180,000 African American had served in the United States army. They provided the necessary man power that was required by the Union states to win over the Confederates, including other minimal jobs, such as cooking, carpentry, tailoring, scouting, etc. On average, of those who participated in the war, 40,000 of the black men lost their lives – 10,000 in the battle fields, while 30,000 succumbing to wounds received during battles. 

Conclusively, it is evident that the American Civil war changed the course of history for the country. The war resulted in declaring the United States a unified nation, which could not be dissolved into lesser confederates and also in abolishing slavery and slave trade. Even though the two declarations were acquired through loss of human lives and destruction of property, the results have forever shaped the America as a unified nation where every man is treated equally regardless of his background.


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