The Debate over African American troops in the Civil War.

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Philip Roedig

Dr. Powell

US History

22 November 2011

African American Troops

                As war became inevitable in the United States during the mid-nineteenth century, much attention was drawn to the debate on whether or not African Americans were allowed to take up arms and help protect their country.  The idea of blacks being used as troops was an idea that many had not thought about until the outbreak of war at Fort Sumter.  This triggered many northern African Americans to want to volunteer for service in the Union Army.   African Americans are humans under the constitution and should have every equality and right to fight in a war as any other human.  They would be fighting for their own freedom which would make for a very strong army.  African Americans saw this as their chance to become free men, whites thought this could have an extreme impact on society and the United States itself.

        Many Americans argued against the use of African American troops in the United States.  In the North, some argued that Black troops would negatively affect the army.  “..that one negro regiment, in the present temper of things, put on equality with those who have the past year fought and suffered, will withdraw an amount of life and energy in our army equal to disbanding ten of the best regiments we can now raise.”(New York tribune, W&B, 257)  In the South, African Americans ran most plantations and by removing them you remove the work force working on these crop fields.  “Can we feed our soldiers and their families if the Negro men are taken from the plantations?.....When the Negro is taught the use of arms and the art of war, can we live in safety with them afterwards.”(Warren Akin, W&B, 270)  Removing the slaves from their work fields would damage the southerner’s crop yield dramatically.  Also some lived in fear that if taught the ways of war, the slaves would come back to pay their previous masters a visit.   These were questions that Southerners did not know the answer to but didn’t want to find out by experiencing it firsthand.  For if the Blacks are able to fight for American freedom they most certainly deserve their own.  If blacks were given the right to fight in war, some argued it would be difficult to fight alongside them, since certain whites believed they were the cause of the war.  “The feeling against nigars is intensely strong in this army as is plainly to be seen wherever and whenever they meet them they are looked upon as the principal cause of this war and this feeling is especially strong in the Irish regiments.”(Union solider letter, W&B, 263)  Many whites though it would be extremely difficult to now fight alongside those that they had so recently had control over.

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Although there were many good reasons to keep blacks out of the army, there was also great reason for why they should pick up arms.  Northern freed slaves were persistent on trying to earn the right to fight that some even wrote letters to the president trying to change his mind.  “Men! Men! Send us Men! They scream, or the cause of the Union is gone; and yet these very officers, representing the people and the government, steadily and persistently refuse to receive the very class of men which have a deeper interest in the defeat and humiliation of the ...

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