Leslie Rowland (Associate Professor of History, University of Maryland)
January 19, 2012
From the beginning of the Civil War, blacks served the Union army as laborers, teamsters, cooks, laundresses, hospital attendants, and personal servants but not as soldiers. When the War broke out, they volunteered to fight. Yet whites, knowing that blacks saw participation in the War as a step toward racial equality, flatly rejected their help in battle. Only when the War ground to a stalemate and casualties rose as enlistments fell did the Union turn to what Frederick Douglass called “the iron arm of the black man.” Ultimately, nearly 200,000 African Americans served in the Union Army and Navy. What impact did they have on the War, and what impact did the War have on them? And what of the enslaved? Did they strike at the Confederacy to win their freedom, or were they merely the passive beneficiaries of the Union victory?