A Different Civil War: African
American Veterans in New
Earl F. Mulderink III
DURING THE CIVIL WAR, northern African Americans clamored to contribute to the Union cause, believing that they might strike blows against slavery and for their own rights as American citizens. This ongoing and often passionate struggle for citizenship was demonstrated repeatedly in New Bedford, Massachusetts, home to one of the North's most significant African American communities. With a population that comprised the largest percentage of black residents of any New England urban area between 1850 and 1880, New Bedford's black community enjoyed an unusual measure of economic opportunities, political freedoms, and high social standing. In 1860, on the eve of the war, New Bedford's black population stood at 1,518 individuals, or 6.5 percent of the city's total population of 22,300. By comparison, among other northern cities at that time, only Philadelphia counted a larger percentage of African American residents; Boston's black residents comprised less than 1.5 percent of the total population.1 The relatively large size and favorable position of New Bedford's black community was built by African Americans amid a favorable opportunity structure fostered by a lucrative whaling econ-
1 For background information and elaboration, see Earl F. Mulderink III, " 'We
Want a Country': African-American and Irish-American Community Life in New
Bedford, Massachusetts, During the Civil War Era" (Ph.D. dissertation, University
of Wisconsin-Madison, 1995). Population and census figures are on pages 44–46.
See also my " 'The Nearest Approach to Freedom and Equality': Racism, Paternal-
ism, and the Labor Market in New Bedford, Massachusetts," in Racism and the
Labour Market: Historical Studies, ed. by Marcel van der Linden and Jan Lucassen
(Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Peter Lang AG, issued by the International Institute
of Social History, 1995), 263–86.