In What Ways Did African Americans Shape The Course And Consequences Of The Civil War

How did African Americans shape the course and consequences of the Civil War from 1861-1870?

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mkoren eNotes educator| Certified Educator

African Americans shaped the course and the consequences of the Civil War in several ways. As the war progressed, it became increasingly focused on freeing the slaves. When the Civil War began, President Lincoln couldn’t make this one of the war goals because he would have lost the Border States to the Confederacy. However, once he issued the Emancipation Proclamation, it was clear that freeing the slaves was a goal for the Union. Of course, preserving the Union was also a main goal.

During the Civil War, the Union enlisted African Americans in the army and in the navy. African American soldiers fought in segregated units against the Confederacy. African Americans also helped the Union by serving as guides and spies. In the South, African Americans generally weren’t involved in the war effort. When they did get involved at the very end, it was in a noncombat manner.

After the Civil War ended, the Reconstruction process began. One of the goals of Reconstruction was to give African Americans more freedom and more rights. The Freedmen’s Bureau was created to help African Americans adjust to being free. African Americans received food, clothing, and medical care. Schools were established for African Americans. The Fourteenth Amendment made African Americans who were born in the United States official citizens of the United States. The Fifteenth Amendment prevented people from being denied the right to vote because of their race or if they had been enslaved in the past. More African American males began to vote. African American males also got elected to political offices.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

African Americans helped to shape the course and consequences of the war during this time frame by helping to make the war and its aftermath be about them.  The war was not necessarily going to be about African Americans, but African Americans helped make it that way.  They were, of course, not alone in doing so.

At the beginning of the war, the war was only about preserving the Union.  We know that Abraham Lincoln said that he would refrain from freeing any slaves if he felt that was the best way to preserve the Union.  But then the war turned and came to focus more on African Americans.  Perhaps the major factor to cause this change was the Emancipation Proclamation.

Although African Americans did not, of course, issue the Proclamation, their actions after that helped turn the war into a war about them.  African Americans served in the Union Army in relatively large numbers on a volunteer basis.  They did so even in the face of great prejudice and discrimination.  After the war, African Americans pushed for the government to help them economically and socially.  The freed slaves wanted the right to vote and the right to be treated equally and they wanted economic opportunities.  Their desires, and the desire of many Southern whites to stop them, helped bring about Radical Reconstruction by 1870.

Because African Americans fought bravely in the war and because they pushed for greater rights in the time after the war, the war came to be seen as a war that was largely about African Americans, their freedom, and their status after being freed from slavery.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

African Americans fought in Union regiments during the Civil War, though at first they were not permitted to do so. After a 1792 law that prohibited African Americans from bearing arms was repealed, African American regiments were formed in the Union Army, including the 54th Regiment in Massachusetts under Robert Gould Shaw. African American troops played a vital role in the siege of Petersburg, Virginia, and they fought valiantly, despite receiving lower pay than white soldiers.

Slaves who fled their masters in the South formed Union regiments in the South, and they also helped the Union Army in roles such as scouts, spies, nurses, and cooks. Eventually, 10% of the Union Army was made up of African American troops. The Confederates did not arm African Americans but tasked them with building fortifications and other similar roles.

After the Civil War, African Americans played important roles in state and federal government during Reconstruction. After the passage of the 14th Amendment, African Americans became citizens, and Union Leagues spread throughout the South to promote the political involvement of African Americans. About 2,000 African Americans served in public office during Reconstruction, including two Senators from Mississippi: Hiram Revels and Blanche Bruce. However, by the early 1870s, the Ku Klux Klan and state governments in the South began to disenfranchise African Americans and they were excluded from holding political office.