Fighting for the Jim Crow North
In 1860 Northern blacks lived in a world of legal restrictions and social segregation – in most Northern States they could not serve on juries, testify against whites. New York required them to meet rigid property requirements to be voters, and most institutions like hospitals, schools, prisons and cemeteries either denied them access or shunted them off to inferior corners, and many Northern cities maintained “Jim Crow” cars for public transport. After Secretary of War Stanton informed Lincoln of the scarcity of enlistments by mid-1862, interest in able-bodied black soldiers in blue taken from the South would gain momentum.
Bernhard Thuersam, Chairman
North Carolina War Between the States Sesquicentennial Commission
"Unsurpassed Valor, Courage and Devotion to Liberty"
"The Official Website of the North Carolina WBTS Sesquicentennial"
Fighting for the Jim Crow North:
“Before the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln repeatedly questioned the wisdom of allowing blacks to serve in uniform. On several occasions Union generals acted on their own to accept black enlistments, but each time they were overruled. Whatever military benefits they offered, Lincoln reasoned, were likely to be outweighed by political damage.
In July 1862 two pieces of legislation opened the doors for wider black participation in the military. The second confiscation act gave the president the power to use contrabands in any way he saw fit. And the Militia Act included provisions for enrolling blacks for military service [and] Secretary of War Stanton was authorizing the enlistment of five thousand freed slaves in South Carolina.
“[The] South must be subjugated,” [the New York Anglo-African newspaper] insisted in August, 1861, “or we shall be enslaved . . . Colored men whose fingers tingle to pull the trigger, or clutch the knife aimed at the slave-holders in arms, will not have to wait much longer,” it promised. By the end of the war 179,000 black men had served in 166 all-black regiments. Most of these soldiers were recently freed slaves . . . but more than 34,000 free Northern [and Canadian] blacks also fought for the Union.
For most of the war blacks received lower wages than whites of the same rank. Unlike whites, blacks had few opportunities for advancement [and all officers were white]. Time and again they were given menial tasks as guards or work crews. White troops may have worn the same [blue] uniform, but they generally treated their new comrades with contempt. [Black] soldiers were twice as likely to die of disease [and] black troops often received unhealthy garrison duty with inadequate medical care.
Some [Northern] whites echoed the sentiments of diarist George W. Fahnestock who wrote, “I only wish we had two hundred thousand [blacks] in our army to save the valuable lives of our white men.” [New Yorker Maria Lydig Daly [wrote] “ . . . Though I am very little Negrophilish and would always prefer the commonest white that lives to a Negro, still I could not but feel moved [at the sight of black troops].
President Lincoln had long doubted that blacks and whites could live together in harmony. Before the war he had subscribed to the popular idea that slaves should be freed and then sent off to “colonize” distant lands, perhaps in West Africa. In August 1862, as the number of contrabands grew, Lincoln called five black leaders to the White House to discuss the situation. But the meeting proved fruitless as his guests refused to support a scheme to colonize part of Central America.”
(The North Fights the Civil War, J. Matthew Gallman, Ivan R. Dee, Inc., 1994, pp. 130-134)