1812-1815: WAR OF 1812
1814: FREE MEN OF COLOUR
1861-1865: CIVIL WAR
1863: FREDERICK DOUGLAS
1863: 54TH MASSACHUSETTS INFANTRY




1812-1815: WAR OF 1812

During the War of 1812, black Soldiers served in both integrated regiments as well as in all-black regiments. Many black Soldiers served with courage and distinction, both on land and at sea. Many others worked as laborers, constructing fortifications and supplying the Army with food, materiel and munitions.

Several northern states, including New York and Pennsylvania, recruited entire regiments of black Soldiers and even some southern states, like Louisiana and North Carolina, enlisted black Soldiers. Two battalions of “Free Men of Color” and several other units participated in the great American victory over the British during the Battle of New Orleans at the end of the war.



1814: FREE MEN OF COLOUR

Many black Soldiers fought in the Battle of New Orleans. Slaves, as well as free black Soldiers, constructed forts around the city in preparation for the impending British invasion. Also, blacks comprised the majority of two battalions and three companies, collectively referred to as Free Men of Colour, as well as serving in integrated Louisiana militia units.

When Gen. Andrew Jackson, a future U.S. president, declared martial law in New Orleans in late 1814, he requested “volunteer” slaves from Louisiana and surrounding states to erect defenses for the city. Approximately 900 blacks dug a massive trench and earthen barricades at Rodriguez Canal that proved vital in the outcome of the ensuing battle.

Most of the Soldiers in the Free Men of Colour units were refugees from Haiti and Santo Domingo, and 28 of them were Choctaw Indians. On Dec. 23, 1814, the British attacked. Approximately 50 blacks were killed during the battle, but the Free Men of Color repulsed the elite British 85th and 95th Regiments, helping to secure victory for the Americans.



1861-1865: CIVIL WAR

When Union troops invaded Confederate states, thousands of black slaves flocked to Union camps for a chance to fight — and a chance for freedom. Many of these men were unofficially allowed to enlist in the Union Army. After President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Jan. 1, 1863, black Soldiers were officially allowed to participate in the war.

Black Soldiers distinguished themselves in battle on numerous occasions. On Feb. 1, 1863, Col. T. W. Higginson, commander of the 1st Regiment South Carolina Volunteers (Union), gave this report after the St. Mary’s River expedition in Georgia and Florida: "No officer in this regiment now doubts that the key to the successful prosecution of this war lies in the unlimited employment of black troops… It would have been madness to attempt [the battle], with the bravest white troops, what I have successfully accomplished with the black ones.”

Approximately 186,000 black Soldiers — including 94,000 former slaves from Southern states — ultimately served in the Union Army and 38,000 were killed in action.

The Confederate Army recruited a handful of black Soldiers in March 1865, but they were still being organized when the war ended, and they never saw action.


(CAPTION: Co. E, 4th U.S. Colored Infantry, Ft. Lincoln, defenses of Washington." (title from print). Shows 27 blacks in two lines with rifles resting on the ground. Courtesy of the Library of Congress)



1863: FREDERICK DOUGLAS

Frederick Douglas, best known as a black orator and abolitionist, was also instrumental in the Union victory of the Civil War. He urged Lincoln to free slaves and to arm all blacks willing to fight. Douglas, a former slave, recruited his own two sons to serve in the Union Army.

Douglas also helped to establish the all-black 54th Massachusetts Regiment of the Union Army. On Aug. 13, 1863, Douglas was directed by the secretary of war to travel from his hometown of Rochester, N.Y., to Vicksburg, Miss., “to assist in recruiting colored troops.”



1863: 54TH MASSACHUSETTS INFANTRY

In early 1863, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, an all-black regiment of the Union Army, was activated. More than 1,000 blacks — about 25 percent of whom were former slaves — from 24 states and several countries enlisted in the regiment.

The 54th proved their bravery during the storming of Fort Wagner on James Island, S.C., July 18, 1863. The 54th led several white regiments in the assault, through darkness and across a marsh with water 4-feet deep.

During the battle, Sgt. William H. Carney, a former slave, became the first of many black Soldiers who later earned the Medal of Honor. After the regimental commander, Col. Robert Gould Shaw, was killed, Carney climbed the fort’s parapet and retrieved the Union flag from the slain color bearer. Despite being wounded in the chest, arm and legs, he planted the flag atop the fort, which greatly inspired his fellow Soldiers.

More than a third of the regiment were killed or wounded during the fighting. The battle was immortalized in the 1989 film, “Glory.”