Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era

By John David Smith | Go to book overview
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8
THE USCT IN THE
CONFEDERATE HEARTLAND, 1864

Anne J. Bailey

Emancipation struck a deathblow to bondage, but newly freed slaves found liberation offered few tangible rewards in the occupied South. Even before the Union government made emancipation the official policy, many Northerners argued that Washington bureaucrats had to demonstrate a true commitment to change. One way to fulfill that obligation and at the same time guarantee the promise of legal freedom was to allow African Americans to join the army. But until Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation, Northern legislators had not embraced the idea of blacks in Union blue with enthusiasm. Although black Northerners and white abolitionists had long argued the benefits of enlisting African Americans, the majority of Northern citizens felt uncomfortable with what an armed black man would mean to society at large. Even after the War Department sanctioned black enlistments, there were Union-occupied regions in the South that lagged behind. In the Confederate heartland of Tennessee the administration had to balance the loyalty of law-abiding slaveholders against the army's need for more manpower. Not everyone agreed with Lincoln's policy, and some generals refused to include black regiments in white combat armies, preferring instead to use African American enlistees for garrison duty, as laborers and railroad guards, or in other menial positions. They balked at using blacks in meaningful roles that would allow them to fight alongside white soldiers. Major General William Tecumseh Sherman was one of those commanders who simply refused to consider using blacks in combat.1

Moreover, it was impossible to ignore Sherman's defiance, for as 1864 opened he commanded the vast Western Theater. He had assumed this posi

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