African Americans and the Civil War

African Americans and the Civil War - African Americans and...

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African Americans and the Civil War The African-American Experience , 1999 AFRICAN AMERICANS ON THE EVE OF THE CIVIL WAR Northern blacks took a keen interest in the campaign and election of 1860. The Republican party's presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), enjoyed wide support among the North's small free black population, although many blacks remained dissatisfied with that party's platform because it failed to call for emancipation. Others supported the Radical Abolition party candidate, Gerrit Smith (1791-1874). Although the Republican platform fell short of their wishes, blacks still welcomed the election of Abraham Lincoln as a step in the right direction. Soon after Lincoln's election, slave states began to secede. Lincoln lamented their decision and strove to prevent others from following suit. Black leaders, however, tired of watching northern politicians make compromises with southern slaveholders, welcomed secession. Now that the two regions were separate, they reasoned, the North would no longer enforce the abhorrent fugitive slave law, and all slaves who escaped north would be free. Blacks also welcomed the outbreak of war, seeing it as the first step toward the end of slavery, even though abolition was not a stated war aim. "The American people and the Government at Washington may refuse to recognize it for a time," Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) wrote in May 1861, but nevertheless, he insisted, the "war now being waged in this land is a war for and against slavery." SLAVERY DURING THE WAR Southern blacks, largely illiterate and unfamiliar with the activities of northern abolitionists, observed the outbreak of war more cautiously. However, once they understood that the war could hasten their freedom, most grasped every opportunity to aid the Union army. Their reactions to the war's outbreak destroyed the myth of the happy slave. Apologists for the South's peculiar institution had long contended that slaves loved their masters and would not take freedom if it were offered. In fact, slaves fled to freedom when they had the opportunity; during the war, approximately five hundred thousand slaves escaped or came within Union lines. The coming of war changed slaves' lives in several ways. Many plantations shifted from cash crops such as cotton to staples such as corn and wheat to feed the army and the civilian population. Families lost loved ones as able-bodied male slaves were forced to aid the war effort. Many experienced severe dislocation. As Union armies approached, masters often fled, taking their human property into the hinterland. In some cases, masters fled and left slaves behind. These slaves were emancipated and often continued to farm under the direction of the Union army. Many slaves were pressed into service in the Confederate army. Although the Confederacy never officially conscripted or armed free blacks and slaves, slaves were forced to build defensive fortifications and to cook, clean, and perform other tasks in army camps. In the war's early stages, some went to battle as their masters' personal slaves. Some blacks, perhaps
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  • Fall '19
  • Slavery in the United States, American Civil War, President Lincoln, Union army

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