In 1860, there were approximately four million African Americans in the United States (About 13% of the total US Population at that time) and about 90% were enslaved. When the Civil War broke out, despite the fact that slavery was the prime cause of the Civil War, freedom for the slaves was not the goal of the Union cause. Over the four years of the war the Union policies towards slavery changed dramatically, eventually bringing about emancipation of all the slaves.
Prior to and during the Civil War the southern economy was based on slave labor. In the total war effort, with more men in the army, slave labor was critical. However, with multitudes of slaves escaping and the military losing ground, the economy was imploding. For many of the slaves that did not or could not escape, their lives changed because of the dramatically altered conditions, brought on by a total war effort and a sinking economy.
As the war progressed, hundreds of thousands of former slaves, either escaped slavery or were displaced by the movement of the Union army. The times were not ready for a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude, so the Union government and charitable organizations had to adapt quickly.
African American men who had been free and also former slaves, were recruited into the US Army and the US Navy to fight for the United States and the freedom of all African Americans. Over 200,000 men served in the military as well as about the same number who were employed in various support roles for the military. The southern army also depended heavily on African Americans in support roles for their army. This class will explore the many roles that African Americans played, on both sides of the war, and how those roles changed as the war progressed. Also to be discussed are the changes in race relations that came about in the Civil War period and the issues that were left unaddressed.