Recruiting African American soldiers for the Union Army


“The War for the Union, whether men so call it or not, is a war for Emancipation”

Since the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, Douglass began advocating for the inclusion of black soldiers in the Union Army. He believed that fighting for the Union was fighting for the freedom of the black man and the safety and security of the country therefore paving their path to citizenship.  He held a meeting with President Lincoln and spread his message through meetings with political leaders, letters to influential friends, speeches and editorials in his journal, Frederick Douglass’ Paper. The President and Union Generals were afraid that white soldiers would refuse to fight alongside black soldiers. Douglass was on the right track but it took a couple of years for politicians to figure it out.

On January 1, 1863 when theEmancipation Proclamation went into effect it freed more than three million slaves. Two years into the war, the north was in need of more troops. Although not considered citizens, former slaves were willing to fight for the Union. Soon President Lincoln gave orders to the Governor of Massachusetts, John Andrew, to raise soldiers for the 54th and 55th Colored Massachusetts Regiments. Douglass’ sons, Charles and Lewis, and Sojourner Truth’s grandson were one of the first colored recruits to join the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. Many free African Americans joined the ranks as volunteers, not just as soldiers but as nurses, cooks and spies like Harriet Tubman.

Starting in 1863, Frederick Douglass was actively involved and played an important role in the recruitment of African American soldiers for the Union Army. He traveled thousands of miles to attend recruitment meetings and wrote extensively in his own newspaper, renamed Douglass Monthly after the Proclamation.

Here are some excerpts from his speeches and enlistment articles of 1863.

“Men of Color to Arms”

The article was published first in Douglass Monthly on March 21, 1863 and then in many leading newspapers of the north.

“The chance is now given you to end in a day the bondage of centuries, and to rise in one bound from social degradation to the plane of common equality with all other varieties of men”. Read article.

“Why should a Black Man enlist?

This article was published in Douglass Monthly on April, 1863. Douglass gives nine reasons to enlist.

“You are a member of a long enslaved and despised race. Men have set down your submission to Slavery and insult, to a lack of manly courage. They point to this fact as demonstrating your fitness only to be a servile class. You should enlist and disprove the slander, and wipe out the reproach. When you shall be seen nobly defending the liberties of you own country against rebels and traitors — brass itself will blush to use such arguments imputing cowardice against you”.Read article.

“Another Word to Colored Men”

This article was published in Douglass Monthly on April, 1863.

“Some say wait till New York shall call us a part of her quota. My answer to this objection is that New York will be far more likely to call us if she finds us responding to the call of Massachusetts. If the call to Massachusetts shall prove a success, other States will follow her example. If she fails, visibly fails, no State will be foolish enough to follow in her footsteps. If you are in earnest, and really wish to get at the foe, you will go by way of Massachusetts, since that is the only way now open. Our first business is to make the Bay State regiment a success”Read article.


Recruitment poster

 Recruitment poster used in 1863 to attract black soldiers to join the Union Army. Click on image to enlarge.



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