African American soldiers fighting in the Civil War mattered because their service advanced a broader and unstated strategic necessity—white Northerners accepting emancipation as a means of winning the war, if not as an end in and of itself. Voluntary recruitment of black soldiers began in 1863, just as the North began drafting white soldiers. While Northern whites welcomed a new source of soldiers, many doubted black soldiers’ willingness to fight. White northerners shared white Southerners racial views. Ultimately, the need for more soldiers fighting for the Union and fewer slaves working for the Confederacy convinced many Northerners to accept African Americans in the Union Army and Northerners who rejected emancipation as a war aim accepted it as a military measure to save the Union. Some 180,000 African Americans served in the Union army and approximately 18,000 served in the Union Navy. Racial prejudice shaped the experience of black soldiers in state and federal units. Since most Americans believed that African Americans were inferior, they served in separate units commanded by white officers and only a handful of black soldiers received commissions. To begin with African American soldiers earned less than their white counterparts; the government equalized pay only after black soldiers and their white officers protested this injustice. Finally, the same racial attitudes that demanded that these soldiers prove their fitness for freedom made it more difficult; many United States Colored Troops (USCT) regiments served in support roles, either guarding supply lines or performing manual labor because white officials questioned their courage and fighting mettle. Confederates threatened to hang their white officers, enslave black soldiers, and refused to treat captured African American as POWs. Confederate massacres of black soldiers occurred at Fort Pillow and at the Battle of Poison Spring in Arkansas. Black soldiers retaliated for this massacre at Jenkins Ferry, Arkansas, and gave no quarter to Confederate soldiers. While fighting well was not as important as dying well, in their first two major battles, Port Hudson and Fort Wagner, African Americans proved that they could do both. George Washington Williams, a pioneering African American historian and Civil War veteran, stated “From a purely military standpoint the assault upon Fort Wagner was a failure, but it furnished the severest test of Negro valor and soldiership.” During the final campaigns around Petersburg and Richmond many USCT regiments were heavily engaged and a number of African American soldiers were awarded the newly-created Medal of Honor for their heroism. USCT regiments helped trap Lee’s army near Appomattox. Black soldiers also participated in one of the last major actions out west playing a critical role in the destruction of John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee at Nashville. After the war, four black regiments served in the regular army and while black soldiers did not march in the Grand Review of the Army in Washington D.C. celebrating Union victory at the end of the war, those who were disabled received the same pensions as white veterans. Black veterans also joined veteran’s organizations including the Grand Army of the Republic in all black or integrated posts. Sadly, the deeds of black soldiers are not as well known today as they were immediately after the war. Reminding Americans about black soldiers’ Civil War service should be one of the most important priorities of the sesquicentennial.
Company E, 4th US Colored Troops at Fort Lincoln, November 17, 1865.
Image credit: Library of Congress
In the twenty-first century, Civil War classes always include a segment on African American soldiers; however, these men’s service is often treated as a sidebar—an important point separate from the war’s central narrative. One reason for this treatment, black soldiers played no role in some of the wars’ best-known battles, such as Antietam and Gettysburg. Moreover, Confederates won some of the best-known battles involving black soldiers, such as the assaults on Fort Wagner and Port Hudson, suggesting that African American military efforts were not important to Northern victory. This assessment reflects a limited understanding of how wars are won or lost; individual victories or defeats are less important than how any action fits into a larger strategic framework. African American soldiers mattered because their service advanced a broader and unstated strategic necessity—white Northerners accepting emancipation as a means of winning the war, if not as an end in and of itself.
Voluntary recruitment of black soldiers began in 1863, just as the North began the involuntary service of white soldiers—the draft. While Northern whites welcomed a new source of soldiers, many doubted black soldiers’ willingness to fight. As a result, loyal citizens scrutinized African Americans’ conduct in their first battles, victory or defeat mattered less than their fighting spirit. Moreover, during the last critical year, 1864, when casualties were at an all-time high and Northern morale at an all-time low, black soldiers fought some of their most critical battles. In that same year, the presidential election represented a referendum on the Lincoln presidency, including his decision to free and arm the slaves. It is unlikely that white Northerners, soldiers and civilians alike, would have supported either Lincoln or emancipation, if they believed that black soldiers were unwilling to fight for their own freedom.
At the beginning of the Civil War, few white Americans, Northerners or Southerners, believed that the United States would need black soldiers, particularly since this was supposed to be a white man’s war. Southerners rejected recruiting African Americans for obvious reasons, though they were willing to use slave labor to support their military effort. Northerners’ refused to use African Americans, freemen or slaves, because rejecting black recruits demonstrated that this was a war to preserve the Union only, slavery and all. A war for Union also reflected an early strategic necessity, keeping the slave-holding Border States in the Union. Moreover, Lincoln and his government knew that many loyal citizens in Free states rejected abolition as a war aim, particularly in the Midwest. War in a democracy requires the support of at the very least a majority of its citizens. In 1861, a war for freedom would have been a war supported by the minority of loyal Unionists.
Moreover, most white Americans rejected black service early in the war because they did not believe these men would be an asset. White northerners shared white Southerners racial views. In their mind, African Americans were biologically inferior and incapable of being effective soldiers. Some Northerners disagreed; abolitionist army officers formed black regiments. In Kansas, James Lane, who fought for a free state in the Kansas as a “Jayhawker,” recruited the 1st Kansas (Colored). Similarly, in South Carolina, David Hunter armed slaves based on laws written to facilitate the recruitment of laborers. Among the first commanders of one of these units was Thomas Wentworth Higginson, an abolitionist who provided financial and moral support to John Brown for his attack on Harpers Ferry. Ultimately, the need for more soldiers fighting for the Union and fewer slaves working for the Confederacy convinced many Northerners to accept African Americans in the Union Army.
Ironically, the Confederate States of America’s use of slaves made the United States recruitment of African American soldiers more palatable. As early as November, 1861, the very first challenges to Union policy regarding slavery occurred when enslaved men and women escaped to Union lines. Federal law and the Constitution suggested that they should be returned to their masters. Many Northerners, particularly soldiers, rejected the role of slave catchers. General Benjamin Butler, commander at Fort Monroe, decided that these slaves were “property” and liable for seizure as enemy “contraband.” Initially, this applied to refugees working for the Confederate military, later it expanded to include all slaves of “rebel” masters. By the spring and summer of 1862, the use of slave labor by the Confederate military could not be ignored. During the Peninsula Campaign in spring and summer of 1862, white Northern soldiers witnessed slaves at work building fortifications that blocked their advance on Richmond. The ultimate defeat of the Union Army in this campaign, and the many bloody defeats that followed that summer, prompted a reassessment of Northerners war aims. Northerners who rejected emancipation as a war aim accepted it as a military measure to save the Union. While defeat prompted Northerners to consider emancipation, only victory allowed the U.S. government to act. In the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam, Lincoln issued an executive order that freed the slaves in areas considered in a state of rebellion—the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. One section of this order allowed the Army to begin recruiting slaves for military service. Ultimately, 180,000 African Americans served in the Union army and approximately 18,000 served in the Union Navy.
While the story of these almost 200,000 soldiers and sailors appears to have been forgotten; this amnesia was really only true in the first half of the twentieth century. Pioneering black historians, such as William Wells Brown, Joseph Wilson, and George Washington Williams, told the story of black Civil War service in the decades after the Civil War. It was not until the turn of the century that Americans forgot African Americans’ wartime sacrifices as part of a broader amnesia concerning the role of slaves and slavery in the Civil War. Many Americans accepted the idea that it had been an all-white brother’s war fought for states rights on one side and Union on the other side. While forgotten for the first half of the twentieth century, with the notable exception of W.E. B. Dubois seminal work Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880, by the second half of the century, some historians recovered the almost lost story of black Civil War service. Starting with Dudley Cornish’s The Sable Arm: Negro Troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865, a number of books in the 1950s and 1960s chronicled the “Negro’s” Civil War. The use of the term “Negro” by distinguished historians, scholars like Benjamin Quarles and James McPherson, dates interest in black Civil War service to before the Americans replaced “Negro” with other terms, such as black or African American. More recently, Noah Trudeau’s Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865 and William A. Dobak’s, Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867 explored the service of these men. In addition to these macros studies, African American soldiers have been the subject of a number of micros studies. Among the most innovative, Richard Reid’s study of black soldiers in three North Carolina regiments, Freedom for Themselves: North Carolina’s Black Soldiers in the Civil War Era. These more recent studies have been materially improved by recovering sources that document black voices; earlier studies often relied almost solely on white soldiers’ views. Ira Berlin and his colleagues discovered African American soldiers’ letters in the National Archives, Edward S. Redkey found others in contemporary black newspapers. Today, the historiography of black soldiers in the Civil War is robust and represents an important effort to place the African American experience at the center of Civil War studies. 
In contrast, African Americans who served in the Union Navy received better treatment, though they also served under white officers. In contrast, to their comrades on land, black sailors served on integrated ships alongside white sailors. If African American sailors ran afoul of military law, Union officials treated black sailor as well as their white counterparts in judicial proceedings. In contrast, the majority of Union soldiers executed for mutiny were African Americans. Integration at sea may have been possible because sailors in this era included a wide-variety of racial and ethnic groups. Ironically, people today know more about black military service, as opposed to naval service, because of segregation—all-black regiments facilitated identifying African American’s wartime activities. In fact, only a careful examination of individual service records allowed scholars to determine how many African Americans served in the Civil War U.S. Navy.
While Confederate officials likely believed that the defeat at Fort Wagner would discourage Northerners and harm the Union war effort; in reality, these and other loses may have had the opposite effect. George Washington Williams, a pioneering African American historian and Civil War veteran, explained this contradiction. “From a purely military standpoint the assault upon Fort Wagner was a failure, but it furnished the severest test of Negro valor and soldiership.” African American soldiers passed this test at a critical moment. The United States government had introduced the unpopular draft that had led to large-scale rioting in New York City in July 1863, which only ended when troops from Gettysburg arrived in New York and fired on the rioters. The success of what many considered an experiment, arming African American soldiers, represented as critical a turning point in the summer of 1863 as victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.
To some Northerners, the real test may not have been what freemen did but how former slaves performed in battle. No free black men participated in the Battle at Milliken’s Bend—a small engagement in the larger Vicksburg campaign. In June of 1863, Union officers stationed a small force of black and white soldiers at this bend in the Mississippi; Confederate soldiers attacked this small outpost. It was not, by Civil War standards, a large battle, it incurred about 800 casualties, its importance rests on composition of black units involved in the fight—untrained, former-slaves only recently recruited into the Union Army. Initially, this lack of training and surprise gave the Confederate forces an advantage and both black and white Federal soldiers retreated. Eventually, with the assistance of gunboat fire, Union forces rallied. A white soldier who commanded a company in newly-formed black regiment described the results of this battle to his aunt. “We had about 50 men killed in the regiment and 80 wounded, so you can judge of what part of the fight my company sustained. I never felt more grieved and sick at heart than when I saw how my brave soldiers had been slaughtered, one with six wounds, all the rest with two or three, none less than two wounds.” He cited the particular heroism of his non-commissioned officers, “Two of my colored sergeants were killed, both brave, noble men; always prompt, vigilant, and ready for the fray,” and the courage of his least experienced soldiers. “A boy I had cooking for me came and begged a gun when the rebels were advancing, and took his place with the company, and when we retook the breast-works I found him badly wounded with one gunshot and two bayonet wounds. A new recruit I had issued a gun to the day before the fight was found dead, with a firm grasp on his gun, the bayonet of which was broken in three pieces.” As a result of this battle he explained, “I never more wish to hear the expression, "The niggers won’t fight.” Some readers may question his sincerity since he used a racist term; however, given the overall laudatory tone of his letter, he is likely echoing and refuting the words of those white men who questioned the fight mettle of black soldiers. 
This soldier knew that some doubted the wisdom of arming former slaves; the classical education of 19th century Americans explains some of these views. Herodotus, the Roman historian, tells of the Scythians’ homecoming after a long campaign. In their absence, women at home had married slaves who attacked their returning masters. The Scythians brandished whips at the slaves and they surrendered, cowed by this reminder of their subordinate status. While few Northerners read the classics, racist attitudes led them to doubt African Americans’ fighting spirit. Black soldiers had to overcome these views and convince white Northerners that they could and would fight for their freedom. These view may explain why the Battle at Milliken’s Bend received more attention than one would expect in national newspapers and magazines. Harper’s Weekly readers were informed of the grim nature pf the battle. “It was a genuine bayonet charge, a hand-to-hand fight that has never occurred to any extent during this prolonged conflict. Upon both sides men were killed with the butts of muskets. White and black men were lying side by side, pierced by bayonets, and in some instances transfixed to the earth. In one instance, two men—one white and the other black—were found dead, side by side, each having the other's bayonet through his body.” While the idea that black soldiers fought hard was critical, this description of a post battle scene might have been equally important to Northern whites. “One brave man took his former master prisoner, and brought him into camp with great gusto. A rebel prisoner made a particular request that his own [N]egroes should not be placed over him as a guard. Dame Fortune is capricious! His request was not granted.” It is difficult to imagine white Northern soldiers and civilians supporting a war to end slavery if they believed that African Americans would be cowed by their old masters. The evolution of the war to one that did more than preserve the Union made black troops’ first battles, small and large, on the Mississippi River or the Atlantic Coast, victories or defeats, a critical turning point in the Civil War. 
While there may be some disagreement on turning points in 1863, no one disputes that even after these critical engagements the United States fought almost two long years until final victory. During that period, African American soldiers participated in a number of battles across the various theaters of war; as far west as Oklahoma and as far east as the coast of North Carolina. The day before the defeat at Fort Wagner, African American soldiers emerged victorious at Honey Springs, Indian Territory, which is now part of Oklahoma. In this particular engagement, black soldiers fought alongside and against Native American soldiers making it the only battle in the Civil War in which most soldiers were not white Americans. In the official report on the battle, the battle field commander singled out a black regiment for recognition. According to the commander of this fight, “The First Kansas (colored) (Later the 79th USCT) particularly distinguished itself; they fought like veterans, and preserved their line unbroken throughout the engagement. Their coolness and bravery I have never seen surpassed.” Two years later, in early 1865, black troops helped capture Fort Fisher, North Carolina; a battle featured in the recent movie, Lincoln. The capture of this installation led to the surrender of Wilmington, the last major Confederate port, and represents one of the last major victories of the war.
While the war ended in 1865, the most critical year was 1864. Grant had ascended to command of the Union Army and launched simultaneous attacks on Confederate forces in the spring. Accompanying the main eastern Army, he directed a campaign focused on the destruction of Lee’s Army. The Overland Campaign, so named because it attacked Richmond via a land route, was the bloodiest six weeks of the war. Ultimately, this campaign ended when Union forces besieged Petersburg, thirty-miles south of Richmond. In the wake of these horrific casualties, Union morale plummeted. After tens of thousands of men dead and wounded, the Union Army was actually farther from Richmond in June of 1864 than it had been in June of 1862. Similarly, the western Union Armies had advanced as far as Atlanta, but Sherman’s Army had failed to take the city in a direct assault and, like Grant, besieged a Southern city. It is not surprising given this bloody stalemate that the election of 1864 became a referendum on the war. On one end of the political spectrum, Lincoln faced a challenge from the elements in his own party who believed that he was not radical enough; on the other, the 1864 Democratic convention approved a peace platform that demanded a negotiated settlement of the war. Northerners knew that a vote for Lincoln was a vote to continuing fighting until the end of the war, the restoration of the Union, and emancipation of the slaves. By the end of 1864, Northern fortunes had changed. Sherman occupied Atlanta and left it burning to march to the sea; the men who accompanied him and their eastern counterparts voted overwhelmingly for Lincoln who won a second term. 
In early 1864, Union soldiers would have found it difficult to imagine how the year would end; only months of hard fighting by black and white soldiers gave Lincoln the military victories he needed to win reelection. As early as February 1864, even before the Overland campaign began, black troops fought a critical battle in Olustee, Florida. The Union commander occupying Jacksonville decided to advance into Florida by heading west into the countryside. Union forces, including the 54th Massachusetts, the 8th USCT, and the 35th USCT, ran into a Confederate force that had been mobilized to stop this offensive. Because the Union commander attacked in piecemeal against entrenched troops, Confederate forces won. As always, whites American scrutinized black soldiers’ performance; some units did better than others, reflecting their relative level of military experience. The inexperienced 8th USCT retreated in disorder as did several white units. In contrast, the 54th Massachusetts executed a controlled retreat under heavy fire that allowed the rest of the Northern forces to escape. 
A white officer of the 8th USCT, Lieutenant Oliver W. Norton, described the battle in letters sent to his family. “I shall give you more particularly my own ideas of the performance of our own men. I want to be true and I cannot endorse all that has been said of them. First, I think no battle was ever more wretchedly fought. I was going to say planned, but there was no plan.” Despite this failure, the officer argues that “no new regiment ever went into their first fight in more unfavorable circumstances . . . no braver men ever faced an enemy” Norton explained that his unit was not allowed to get rid of their gear and load their weapons. Instead, the regiment marched at twice the usual pace “for half a mile, came under fire by the flank, [from their side, and] formed line with empty pieces under fire and, [and] before the men had loaded, many of them were shot down.” In his view, “[The regiment] behaved as anyone acquainted with them would have expected. They were stunned, bewildered, and, as the balls came hissing past or crashing through heads, arms and legs, they curled to the ground like frightened sheep in a hailstorm.” Eventually, the soldiers recovered and returned fire; however, Norton explains, “They did not know how to shoot with effect. Our regiment had been drilled too much for dress parade and too little for the field. They can march well, but they cannot shoot rapidly or with effect. Some of them can, but the greater part cannot. [The regiment’s commander] had applied time and again for permission to practice his regiment in target firing, and been always refused.” After the 8th USCT commander was killed, resistance collapsed and regiment retreated. The commander was not the only casualty; a number of black soldiers were left behind—wounded or captured. Norton describes his concern for these soldiers. “A flag of truce from the enemy brought the news that prisoners, black and white, were treated alike. I hope it is so, for I have sworn never to take a prisoner if my men left there were murdered.” The officer’s designation of black soldiers as “my men” demonstrated that shared military experiences changed some white soldiers’ views of black soldiers. While a tactical defeat, Olustee was a strategic victory that advanced emancipation as a war aim. Lincoln specifically cited Olustee when defending his continued commitment to emancipation just before the 1864 election. “There have been men base enough to propose to me to return to slavery the black warriors of Port Hudson and Olustee [;] . . . Should I do so, I should deserved to be damned in time and eternity.” While both of these battles were tactical defeats, they were still strategic victories because they convinced Lincoln and other white Northerners that these “black warriors” were willing and able to fight for their freedom. 
Olustee was only the beginning of a decisive year for Union forces. The 8th USCT would fight other battles; it was just one of the many black regiments involved in the final campaigns around Petersburg and Richmond. These campaigns may not be as well-known today as the earlier battles in the East, such as those at Antietam and Gettysburg. Neglect of these later campaigns may be due to their grim character. Much of the time, soldiers lived in trenches with only a few pitched battles to break the stalemate, similar to the battles in World War I with none of the “romance” of the war’s earlier battles. Unfortunately, when historians and others slight these campaigns, they reinforce the historical amnesia that wrote black soldiers out of the all-white brothers' war. This seems to be a modern phenomenon, black and white veterans in the decades after the war, understood the importance of these battles and the role black soldiers played in this critical campaign. One well-known study of regimental losses published in 1889 maintained that an attack by African American soldiers on Petersburg in June 1864 was “a brilliant success, [which resulted in the capture of] the line of works in its front and seven pieces of artillery.” The author maintained that “had the [rest of the Army] arrived in time to follow up the success of the colored troops, Petersburg would have been taken then.” The majority of African Americans who received the newly-created Medal of Honor received this recognition for their actions in the Petersburg campaign. Fourteen African American soldiers received the Medal of Honor at the Battle on New Market Heights, also known as Chaffin’s Farm.
Despite black soldiers’ heroic actions, attempts to take Petersburg failed and instead, Union soldiers surrounded and besieged the city. To break this stalemate, Union soldiers exploded a mine underneath the Confederate line and created a large “Crater.” While this might have worked if executed properly, once again black soldiers suffered because of poor leadership. Originally, African Americans had been tasked with leading the leading the assault; black units practiced going around the hole made by the explosion. Instead of black soldiers in the vanguard, senior officers ordered white soldiers to attack the gap in the line; untrained, these white units went into the hole and were trapped. Black soldiers sent into action to reinforce the first wave of Union troops ended up in the same desperate position. Eventually, the attack failed; but only after black and white units sustained large numbers of casualties. The murder of black soldiers was, once again, documented by Confederate witnesses. After the failure at the Crater, the Union Army settled in for a long siege that ended when Confederate forces could no longer hold onto the city. African Americans played an important role in the last battles; black units helped trapped Lee’s army near Appomattox where his army surrendered. Similarly, Black soldiers participated in one of the last major actions out west playing a critical role in the destruction of John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee at Nashville. 
Despite their important part in the final war’s final act, neither the black soldiers who trapped Lee’s army, nor the African American regiments that destroyed Hood’s army marched in the Grand Review of the Army in Washington D. C. celebrating Union victory at the end of the war. While this has been seen as race-based exclusion, it is also true that black troops had been given an important mission. Government Officials ordered an entire corps of black soldiers to the Texas border in response to France’s interference in Mexican affairs. While the United States was distracted by the Civil War, Napoleon III installed a monarchy in Mexico, which led to a revolt by Mexican citizens who wanted a republican form of government. Eventually, the French withdrew and their puppet Emperor Maximilian was executed. Army officials demonstrated their faith in black soldiers by deploying them to this critical region. After occupation duty in Texas and other Southern states, African American soldiers went home. The question is to what; how were they treated, did their service matter?
Some black veterans became very successful in post war America, Robert Pinn won the Medal of Honor at New Market Heights and later he became a lawyer, as did James Wolff, a black navy veteran. Like George Washington Williams, Joseph Wilson an African American Navy and Army veteran wrote very popular books about black Civil War soldiers. Others veterans stayed in the military. Four African American regiments served in the regular Army after the Civil War, two infantry regiments, the 24th and the 25th Infantry, and their better known cavalry counterparts, the 9th and 10th Cavalry. Other black veterans became ministers, while others worked as barbers, or skilled craftsmen. Limited educational opportunities and literacy meant that many worked as laborers. Many black veterans farmed their own land or shares owned by others. Some of these men, like their white comrades, were unable to work because of wartime diseases and injuries; these men received the same pensions as white veterans.
Those who were able joined their white colleagues in veterans’ organizations, including the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union Army’s largest veterans’ group. Some African American veterans belonged to all-black local organizations or posts—these grassroots organizations were similar to the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign War Posts today. Some of these men belonged to integrated local-posts alongside their white comrades. One reason for their acceptance, white soldiers remembered Port Hudson, Fort Wagner, Olustee, and Petersburg. Some of them had fought in these same battles. Sadly, the deeds of black soldiers are not as well known today as they were immediately after the war. Reminding Americans about black soldiers’ Civil War service should be one of the most important priorities of the sesquicentennial.
Dobak, William A. Freedom by the Sword: The U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867. New York: Skyhorse, 2013.
Berlin, Ira, Joseph P. Reidy & Leslie S. Rowland. The Black Military Experience, 2d ser., Vol. 1 of Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
Cornish, Dudley Taylor. The Sable Arm: Negro Troops in the Union Army 1861-1865. New York: Longmans, 1956.
Glatthaar, Joseph. Forged in Battle, the Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers. New York: Meridian Books, 1991.
McPherson, James M. The Negro's Civil War: How American Blacks Felt and Acted During the War for the Union. New York: Pantheon, 1965.
Quarles, Benjamin. The Negro in the Civil War. Boston: Little Brown, 1953.
Williams, George Washington. A History of the Negro Troops in the War of the Rebellion 1861-1865. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1886.
Wilson, Joseph T. The Black Phalanx: African-American Soldiers in the War of Independence, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Hartford, Connecticut: American Publishing,1888.
No organizations listed.
The National Park Service Soldiers and Sailors System provides a comprehensive database of all the United State Colored Troops and the states’ all black regiments, includes brief regimental histories on each unit and descriptions of all major and minor battles.
The National Archives: Teaching with Documents: The Fight for Equal Rights: Black Soldiers in the Civil War discusses the compiled military service records of the men who served with the United States Colored Troops (USCT) during the Civil War including the officers who were not African American. This major collection of records rests in the stacks of the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA).
The Civil War Trust has several excellent articles on the United States Colored Troops (USCT).
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