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In What Ways Did African Americans Shape the Course and Consequences of the Civil War?

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The Civil War broke out in 1861 due to many different political reasons, all of which was affected by the use of slavery. The common thought is that Lincoln and the North fought for freedom from the outset, but this was not the case. In fact, many would not have fought if they were fighting to free the slaves. Lincoln’s goal was to preserve the Union at all costs, while the South fought for what they believed were inalienable state rights. However, as the war progressed, due to the eager and willing compliance of African Americans throughout the war, a change in the goals of the North occured. In addition to fighting to preserve the Union, they were also now fighting to free the slaves. Once the slaves were freed, a new culture and politics in the South followed.

At the beginning of the war when freeing slaves was yet a priority, there was a great question of what to do with the escaped slaves that fled to Union lines. As a result, many of these fugitives were put to manual labor. Major General Benjamin Butler in a report to the Secretary of War addressed this issue and said “ Are these men, women, and children slaves? Are they free? Is their condition that of men, women, and children, or of property?”(Doc.A) This showed the confusion of whether or not the North was just as bad as the South. The North began to realize the usefulness of these escaped slaves, and the course of the war began to shift. They realized the dedication and passion the African Americans who refused to leave America despite President Lincoln wishing them to do so and they were willing to fight for their country and the freedom of the oppressed.(Doc.B) By throwing themselves into the war effort, African Americans changed a war based on political disagreements to a war that will “terminate and forever prohibit the existence of slavery.”(Doc.D) This change was apparent when Lincoln announced his Emancipation Proclamation. While it only freed the slaves in rebel territory, it showed a shift in purpose for the war, and a new moral aspect that wasn’t there at the beginning. Lincoln had previously taken a stance of neutrality on the issue of slavery he now saw the eagerness of African Americans saying “Some of them seem willing to fight for you.”(Doc.C) This persuaded him to make the promise of freedom which forever changed the world. This change was also seen in everyday life, specifically in New York. When the first African American regiments were formed they were paraded in the streets in a marvelous manner. But the New York Times showed this change by writing “Eight months ago the African race in this city were literally hunted down like wild beasts.”(Doc.F)

African Americans also shaped major social changes in the years that followed the Civil War. Before they were freed, the vast majority of African Americans in the South couldn’t read or write. Now that they were allowed to attend schools, they showed a startling eagerness to learn.(Doc.E)



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