The Civil Radical Battles of the Black American Soldier

African-American Troops, World War I, circa 1917. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)

The Black troops, however, faced greater peril than white troops when captured by the Confederate Army. In 1863 the Confederate Congress threatened to punish severely officers of black troops and to enslave black soldiers.


It was the British Governor of Virginia, Dunmore, who first proposed this idea.  He promised freedom to his own slaves for whoever would join up with the British to fight the colonial traitors. The first group of slaves to be drafted became known as the Ethiopian regiment. To compete with this, the Continental Army quickly changed its policy and began its own recruitment of slaves, with a similar promise of freedom with service. After the war was over, however, Congress passed the Militia Act of 1776, which banned all African American slaves, or otherwise from joining the armed forces (Creating Black Americans). Black American soldiers were also present during the War of 1812. The War of 1812 was the second conflict with the Royal Crown of England and saw the burning of Washington D.C. as well as Baltimore. At this time fifteen percent of the U.S. Navy consisted of Black sailors. Though the official policy was to deny these men from entry into any armed forces, the need for manpower usually undermined this rule.

In addition, Black sailors were known as being among the fiercest fighters, so they were often recruited.

Captain Oliver Perry

Captain Oliver Perry

Captain Oliver Perry was a U.S. Naval Captain who strongly opposed the use of Black sailors. He often complained about the use of them on his ship, but after the battle of Lake Erie, he changed his stance. During the battle, during which Perry’s fleet was able to best the British, his Black sailors performed so well that he wrote the Secretary of the Navy praising them on their bravery. These acts would later lead the Black American soldier into the greatest moments of their career, the Civil War.


As the North became increasingly more industrialized, leaving the South to tend to the agriculture of the economy, tensions began to rise between the two. The argument between Slave and Free states only added to this growing conflict. In 1832, Southern states tried their first hand at secession, then again in 1850.