Civil War's hidden heroes

Civil War's hidden heroes

"(Those) who would be free themselves must strike the first blow," former slave Frederick Douglass wrote. "Better to die free than live slaves."

The stories of African-American soldiers in the Civil War were once relegated to the back shelf of history. Events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the war are shedding new light on all aspects of the conflict, including the role of free blacks and slaves.

"African-American's role in the Civil War was intimately tied to emancipation from the very beginning," said Spencer Davis, professor of history at Peru State University and speaker at the opening night of a week of events hosted by the Lincoln County Historical Museum.

Issuing uniforms and weapons to African-Americans was a "social revolution" on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, David told the audience at the museum on Tuesday night.

In the North, radical abolitionists pressured President Abraham Lincoln and Congress to allow blacks to join the Union Army. In the South, as the war ground to an end, the lack of live bodies to keep fighting led the Confederate Congress allowing slave owners to send their slaves into battle.

"Lincoln and others wondered how blacks would perform in battle," Davis said. "Lincoln, because of a lack of success and pressure from radicals, was forced to consider black troops."

Union black troops performed bravely under extremely adverse conditions, Davis said, citing the siege of Richmond and the Second Battle of Fort Wagner as examples.

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