African-American Perspectives
The Progress of a People
Segregation and Violence Solving the Race Problem Contributions to the Nation

SESSION 3: Our Place in Politics | Work Among Our Women | Negro in the Wars of the Nation | Address to the Country

Session Topic
The Negro in the Wars of the Nation
Image: captions follows
The Gallant Charge of the 54th Mass. [colored] regiment of the rebel works of Ft. Wagner...July 18, 1863. Currier and Ives. Lithograph, 1863. LC-USZ62-7824.
Crispus Attucks, a black man, was the first American to fall at the 1770 "Boston Massacre," considered the first skirmish of the Revolutionary War. During that war, more than 5,000 black Americans served under General George Washington's command. Although there were four black units from the New England states, most black soldiers and sailors served in integrated units. Peter Salem and Salem Poor were heroes at Bunker Hill; Black Samson was a hero at Brandywine. At the Battle of Rhode Island, the Hessians were repulsed by a regiment of black soldiers. "Had they been unfaithful or even given away before the enemy all would have been lost," reported an observer.

In the War of 1812, African-American sailors were with Captain Perry at the Battle of Lake Erie; two battalions of black Americans were with General Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. Said Jackson, "I expected much from you... but you surpass my hopes....the American nation shall applaud your valor, as your General now praises your ardor."

In both the Revolution and the War of 1812, the military at first refused to allow African-Americans to serve. Service was often under humiliating conditions. Many slaves fought for their country, only to be returned to slavery after the war.

Blacks were barred from service in the Civil War until Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Ultimately, more than 186,000 African-Americans enlisted in the Civil War and more than 38,000 died in battle. At the Battle of New Market, twelve black men of the Third Division of the Eighteenth Corps of the Army of the James earned Congressional Medals of Honor. The 1989 Tri-Star Pictures film Glory records the courage and sacrifice of the Black 54th Massachusetts Volunteers at Fort Wagner, Charleston, South Carolina.

 
Pamphlet Excerpt
from "The Negro as Soldier" by Christian A. Fleetwood

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Audio Transcription:

After each war, of 1776, of 1812, of 1861, history repeats itself in the absolute effacement of remembrance of the gallant deeds done for the country by its brave black defenders and in their relegation to outer darkness.

History further repeats itself in the fact that in every war so far known to this country, the first blood, and, in some cases, the last also, has been shed by the faithful Negro, and this in spite of all the years of bondage and oppression, and of wrongs unspeakable.


SESSIONS: Segregation and Violence | Solving the Race Problem | Contributions to the Nation

 
The Progress of a People

African-American Perspectives