The Fight for Equal Rights: Black Soldiers in the Civil War
The Civil War was an event that tore apart America. Brothers fought against brothers and the split occurred right down the middle of the country. Slavery was one of the main issues, though other social and economic issues were also on the burner. During this era, a large number of black soldiers took part in the battles.
Black soldiers first began appearing in 1862. Prior to that, an old law on the books stated that negroes weren’t allowed to serve, but some areas made certain concessions to the law. In the South, some soldiers were forced to join the Confederacy by slave owners and masters who needed the support. In the North, these men were allowed to fight because of the large amount of men dying every day and the small number of men enlisting.
The 54th Massachusetts Infantry was an important group fighting during this era because this group was composed entirely of volunteer black soldiers. The soldiers who fought in the Civil War often earned significantly less than their white counterparts, were given smaller amounts of food, and were usually sent onto the front lines--where their survival rate was much lower.
There are numerous resources on this topic including Black Soldiers in the Civil War, which looks at the men who fought and The Civil War, which offers specific information on black soldiers. There’s also African American Soldiers, which details specific soldiers and The Fight for Equal Rights, which examines the reasoning behind these men enlisting.
More comprehensive resources on the subject of black soldiers in the Civil War include:
The 54th regiment was of specific interest and there are many resources on that topic. The Wikipedia entry on 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry offers a brief history on these men and History of the 54th offers a greater history of this group. The History of the 54th Regiment provides information on why these men joined up and the Museum of African American History includes information and photographs of these men.