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

By John David Smith | Go to book overview

1
LET US ALL BE
GRATEFUL THAT WE
HAVE COLORED TROOPS
THAT WILL FIGHT

John David Smith

When President Abraham Lincoln's September 22,1862, preliminary Emancipation Proclamation went quietly into effect on Thursday January 1,1863, Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles pronounced it “a broad step … a landmark in history”—an “extraordinary and radical measure—almost revolutionary in its character.” But few persons in the North or the South envisioned what historian James M. McPherson has termed the “revolution of freedom”—“the greatest social revolution in American history”—that ensued as the Civil War, with the preservation of the Union at stake, became a war of black liberation. On New Year's Day, “all persons held as slaves within any state … then … in rebellion against the United States” became “thenceforward, and forever free.”1

In his final Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln issued on January 1, the president added a new paragraph authorizing that suitable emancipated slaves will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.” This passage signaled a major reversal in policy because since the start of the war the U.S. Army had turned away free black volunteers. Lincoln's revised text, however, signified more than his changes in attitude and in policy during the last months of 1862. Soon after the war had commenced, he in fact had begun to move cautiously, carefully, but consistently toward emancipation and the enlistment of African American soldiers. The

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