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Black Americans Were the Critical Factor in Winning the Civil War

Black Americans Were the Critical Factor in Winning the Civil War May 13, 2021

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/285756

Black Americans liberated themselves.

The moment that there was a possibility of freedom, enslaved Americans took history in hand and fought. With John Brown, they fought against all odds. When Union armies arrived in slave states, black Americans forced those armies to deal with the real cause of the war. They refused to let the war of rebellion be about “union” or “states rights” or any other abstraction.

They placed their own bodies on the line for liberty.

Hundreds of thousands of white Americans helped, but Black Americans took rifles in hand to win liberty. Whenever a Union army got near a planation, the black folk came ready to help and fight for freedom. They sang the songs of Zion and supported Lincoln and liberty too. Wise generals like US Grant before Vicksburg armed black Americans as quickly as possible and this action, multiplied one hundred thousand times, transformed any future discussion about slavery.

A man who will fight for freedom is fit for freedom. 

You cannot doubt the courage of men who will fight. You cannot deny the franchise to men whose brothers gave all they had to the Union. Slavery was dead the moment the first black man put on a uniform, picked up a rifle, and fought. There is not evidence, none, that a single black man ever voluntarily fought for the Confederacy, but Sherman’s march from Atlanta to the sea showed that the “happy slave” was a myth.

When an unknown foe came to attack “master,” the enslaved overwhelmingly left “home” and worked hard to tear down “master’s” cotton empire. The slave masters knew nothing about their slaves: nothing. As one formerly enslaved man now wearing Union blue said to his “master,” now a prisoner of war: “The bottom rail is on the top.” The economy of the Southern states could not stand this hard truth: the wealth of the cotton states depended on keeping good men subordinate to worse men in an evil system.

A tragedy after the War was the growth of a lie about the enslaved: passive and not so unhappy. 

The moment the War began, the enslaved began to stop work. The plantation economy began to falter as the enslaved demanded payment to work. When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the grapevine of the enslaved passed on the word. At that moment, there was no chance, whatever the military outcome that the millions newly freed, would return to the old ways. The myth of white supremacy ends the moment a black regiment makes the Southern tyrants flee.

The Black volunteers in the Union army used their time to learn literacy, demand equal pay, and learn to manage their own lives. These men went on to represent their home states in Congress and in state constitutional conventions.

In the end, the Union betrayed these men and their families. The white Christians of the North lost the will to fight by 1876. The Republican Party chose “lily white” Republicanism over the policies of Lincoln, Grant, and especially Frederick Douglass. Virtue won the war, lost the peace, and let the defeated write the history. In history, a slave called “uncle” by his “master” once the War began demand to be called “mister.” In fantasy, the Black American was happy to return to his old plantation home and jump Jim Crow.

If tempted to see any justice in the Confederacy, ask why Black men fought. 

They faced discrimination in the Union army. For much of the War, they did not get equal pay. Only one hundred or so ever achieved officer rank, regardless of merit. They were in a segregated force.  Yet for all the problems of the white Christian who fought for the Union, the Black Christian found more common cause with this alien Yankee than with the slaver. Why?

There was nothing good or desirable in slavery. The religious man who chose slavery was a hypocrite. 

Too many do not see the War as it was: Black people seizing liberty against all odds. They did so even though many Northern states tried to bar all Black Americans from coming. Instead, they fought to educate themselves and showing that Black Americans were the paradigm Americans. 

They looked to Jesus: killed on a lynching tree in His day.

They looked to God: father of all mankind.

They sang the songs of Zion.

As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free.

 


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