Brothers to the Buffalo Soldiers: Perspectives on the African American Militia and Volunteers, 1865-1917

By Bruce A. Glasrud | Go to book overview

Introduction
Black Citizen-Soldiers, 1865–1917

Bruce A. Glasrud

during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, black Americans sought to serve their country despite opposition from whites in both the military and the civilian population. They served as soldiers and sailors during wartime, and in times of peace, in a few segregated militia units. The Civil War precipitated a change in their status. After the war, even though peace prevailed, blacks served in the regular army as well as in state militias. During the war, nearly 180,000 African Americans served in units of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT). All the northern and most southern states were represented. Among the early units were the First Kansas Colored Infantry Regiment and the First South Carolina Volunteer Regiment, both formed by white union officers. In Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Missouri, and Kansas, African Americans formed segregated units within state militias organized to protect the local population amid threats of violence. For a time, free blacks in Ohio were pressed into state service in order to protect Cincinnati from a Confederate attack from Kentucky. Even in the South black troops were employed; the Louisiana Native Guards served in both the Confederacy and in the Union armies.1

The Civil War transformed the lives of black Americans beyond the elimination of slavery. It led to new amendments to the United States Constitution— the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth, which brought freedom and civil rights and promised to eliminate race as a voting restriction, and it also created opportunities for African Americans in military service. Between 1865 and 1917, national, state, and local military forces offered blacks significant career choices and positions of respect for militia and for volunteers.

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