Essay, Research Paper
It was a war to surpass all wars. It began as a disagreement; who had the right to succeed, and whose power was more effective. The Civil War began as a test of states? rights versus federal rights, and augmented into the bloodiest battle to ever be fought on American soil. When it began, both sides were certain that the war would be quick, ninety days at most, and God would see to it that the one in the right was victorious. As the days progressed, and the ninety days passed, the fate of the war was again placed into Gods hands, and the country?s worst fear was about to take effect. The war emanated over the South?s right to secede from the Union, but quickly turned into a war about the ?proper way of life?. When the war concluded, the North had won, and the slaves were freed, and in the eyes of the government, they would no longer be enslaved.
In 1860, there were about nine million people in the South, and out of that, four million were slaves. They made up about one-sixth of the American population before the Civil War began. The nation was expanding westward, and as the people drove west, they settled down and began to raise families. With a rapidly growing population and nation, a quarrel could separate the region as a whole and separate tradition from change. The South was traditional by its practice of slavery, and its agricultural economy. The North, on the other hand, represented change as it was ever growing with new technologies. This quarrel was so minute that it could have been settled over tea and crumpets, rather than a four-year war.
A preliminary Proclamation was issued on September 22, 1862 declaring that any slave who crossed over enemy lines was considered a free man. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached its third year of the bloody battle. The proclamation declared ?that all persons held as slaves? within the rebellious states ?are, and henceforward shall be free.? Despite his expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied to those states who had seceded from the Union, leaving those faithful slave states untouched Those states who were under Northern control were also exempt, but most importantly the proclamation was promised upon a Union military victory.
Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not immediately free a single slave, it fundamentally transformed the character of the war. When it was issued, it created unrest among the soldiers of both the North and the South. Some Northerners were supportive of only getting the Confederacy back into the Union, slavery and all, and resented the idea that their president was trying to dictate control over the South. After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom. More importantly though, was that the proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators. The oppressed were not only given a voice, but more effectively, they were given guns, and military training. By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors fought for their freedom.
Lincoln stood by his statement of proclamation, and when he toured Richmond, which had recently fallen to the North, a cavalry of all freedmen escorted him. The Northern soldiers were still opposed to the freedmen as soldiers, but Lincoln?s choice of escorts changed the minds of those who were loyal to him. From the first days of the Civil War, slaves had acted to secure their own liberty, and now Lincoln had granted them some of it. It was only right for them to go out and fight for the rest of their freedom. The Emancipation Proclamation confirmed their insistence that the war for the Union had become a war for freedom. It added moral force to the Union cause and strengthened the Union both militarily and politically, and acted as a milestone along the road to slavery?s final destruction.
The South had always held a grudge towards the North for trying to change their way of life, and now with the Emancipation Proclamation their grudge grew into full-fledged hatred. The South was certain that the North would use their former slaves against them, and that made something within the Rebels flare up, and fight harder. The North now had an added advantage, not only of weapons, and training, but now they greatly out numbered the South. The North did use the South?s slaves, but most Northern soldiers, even officers, were against the blacks being dressed in uniform and fighting in combat. This feeling of superiority gave the North and South a common thread, and there have been recorded events, during war, of soldiers from both sides, sitting down like gentlemen, and discussing the blacks? inferior fighting skills. Besides the Northern and Southern soldiers, the Southern government was against the notion of allowing former slaves in the military.
The South, in fact, was so against the idea of slaves being in the military, that they issued threats to officers. The Southern government threatened any captain or enlisted man, who tried to recruit or use former slaves as military soldiers, with enslavement or death. Sometime after that, though, the pressure of the war began to take its toll on the South, and they were seeing less and less soldiers. With the fear of losing the war, and all they stood for, the South brought up a bill that would allow slaves to defend their masters. The bill narrowly passed with the margin of three in the House and one in the Senate. Although the measure was passed, and declared a victory for all slaves, it had little impact considering that the war would end soon thereafter.
The idea of allowing freed slaves to serve in the military began with General David Hunter in 1862. Hunter traveled to towns along the southeastern coastline proclaiming that all slaves were free. When there was no response to his declaration, Hunter then sent officers into the fields to ?capture? slaves. Upon capture, Hunter?s men would free them, and try to convince them to enlist in the Union army. Many of the ?recruiters? were met with harsh resistance and disbelief, because the slaves thought they were being captured and sold into slavery in the Caribbean.
When the blacks were instructed that they would receive the same benefits as the white men received, the enlistment rose abruptly, and the resistance diminished. By the time the news of Hunter?s deeds reached President Lincoln, he was already months into his project. Hunter gave Lincoln an explanation of what he was doing, but was forced to disband the regiment due to the lack of government sanction. Ironically, two weeks later General Rufus Saxton received governmental permission to organize an all ?Negro? regiment. All of Hunter?s men were reorganized under the command of Saxton. Hunter?s idea and assemblage took place months before the preliminary proclamation was issued.
Threats were common to the leaders of the freedmen regiments. The Confederate Congress passed a law requiring that any white man who was an officer of an all Negro regiment was to be taken prisoner, and ?be put to death or otherwise punished? (Cox, 11-12). Being the leader of those regiments required much courage and discipline. When Captain Robert Gould Shaw, who was the leader of the Massachusetts fifty-fourth Volunteers, was buried, he was stripped of all his belongings and clothes, then buried with the other men in his regiment who died with him on the battlefield of Fort Wagner. The Confederate soldiers buried him with as much disgust and disrespect possible for an officer. Shaw went from an officer of much respect and privilege to a man given the most dishonorable and controversial burial ever given a soldier who defended his country.
The story of the fifty-fourth Massachusetts, is one of contest and victory. The fifty-fourth Volunteers were the first group of freedmen to be organized for combat. They attacked Fort Wagner and won the admiration of the entire Union Army. The struggle to be accepted and perceived as capable human beings, as well as the triumph of serving their country with pride, is a synopsis of the trials and temptations the Volunteers went through. The Captain of the Massachusetts Volunteers, Robert Shaw, had many doubts about commanding a regiment of freedmen. Later accepting the notion, Shaw realized the call to duty that was imposed upon him. A man serving under him was quoted as saying, ?[Captain Shaw] was sure of promotion where he stood. In this new Negro-soldier venture, loneliness was certain, ridicule inevitable, failure possible, and although he had stood among the bullets at Cedar Mountain and Antietam, he had till then been walking socially on the sunny side of life.? (Cox, 40) Shaw knew that if he accepted the call of duty, he would be rejected and scorned not only by fellow soldiers in the North and South, but also by every man, woman, and child in the nation. Shaw knew that he was entering unforeseen territory, and with a regiment of over one thousand men, Shaw knew that it was all or nothing.
Although the North could not have asked for a better asset, the treatment of the freedmen left a great deal to be desired. The black soldier received 7/50 the pay that white soldiers received. Not only was the pay considerably less, but the work that the black man was forced to do, was more than the white soldiers load could amount to. The freedmen who served in the military not only did more of their share of hard labor but they were also given the white soldier?s share of fatigue duty. To emphasize the difference skin color made in this war, the black soldiers were also given less food rations and rarely had full clothing. In addition to getting the short end of the stick and being shafted by their own government (who they were fighting for) the freedmen would stay awake all night tending the fire just to keep themselves alive in the bitter cold.
Although the former slaves came to be known as some of the greatest soldiers in the war, they had very humble beginnings. The commander of the fifty-ninth Pennsylvania Volunteers summed up in details of how former slaves were transformed into soldiers. ?They stripped the freedmen and unceremoniously burned their old clothes, bathed them, and finally suited them in army blues, and ?Lo! He was completely metamorphosed, not only in appearance and dress, but also in character and relations also.?? The change was eloquent, ?Yesterday as a filthy, repulsive nigger, today a neatly attired man; yesterday a slave, today a freedman; yesterday a civilian, today a soldier.? (Black 14, 22) What drove the slaves to fight so wholeheartedly for a country that would not even make sure they had proper food and clothing was the sheer fact that they believed that same country they were fighting for would set them free. The service of the freedmen was known as some of the most honorable service during the Civil War.
The election of 1864 came and with the support of the Union Army, Lincoln was reelected. The war would go on and the slaves would remain free. With Lincoln still holding his office and the war winding down, all the Union Army had to do was to continue to suffocate and starve the Confederates until they surrendered. The Confederate Army was only a fraction of the size that it was when the war began. The North knew that it was only a matter of time before the South had no army left. Many of the Confederate soldiers left in droves. Whether they abandoned the military, were killed/wounded in battle, paid not to serve in the Army, it was nonetheless dying. The end of the war was so near that the Yankees could taste victory.
The freedmen soldiers made many contributions that no history book could ever capture. Everything that they stood for, everything they fought for, fueled their craving for victory even more. The soldiers left the battlefields with more than just the experience of war The experience of battling the inequality was won in the eyes of the military. The experience of those who fought in the fifty-fourth Massachusetts, those who lived to tell about it, did and their story was made into an Oscar nominated movie. The experience of not only being liberated, but fighting for the rights of slaves who were still enslaved, and succeeding, was emancipation for them. The experience of fighting tirelessly and struggling to survive on -what seemed to be- barely enough for a civilian to survive on. When the last shot was fired, and the soldiers had left the battlefields, the entire country not only realized what they had done to keep themselves together, but also what price had been paid for the freedom of its slaves. A country based on freedom needed a Civil War to assure that the residents had that freedom to stand upon. Because of our Civil War, slavery was abolished and we, as Americans, are guaranteed the right to be free.
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