Black Civil War Heroes
Created on December 27, 2020
Genially about incredible Black people who were heroes in the American Civil War
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Black Civil War Heroes
Robert Smalls escaped from slavery into the Union Navy, and then became a prominent recruiter of Black soldiers for the Union. Smalls was raised in slavery, but gained experience as a sailor when his owners moved from Beaufort to Charleston, South Carolina. He had wanted to purchase his wife and family’s freedom, but when his attempts failed, he planned an escape. When the Civil War began, he became a deckhand on a Confederate ship and learned to navigate between ports.
One morning while the white officers and crew slept, he slipped the ship out of the Charleston Harbor with over a dozen men, women, and children on board. He managed to pass five checkpoints, and once he was in open waters, raised a white sheet to surrender to the Union Navy. He handed over the guns and ammunition onboard as well as documents with Confederate shipping routes and schedules. His escape encouraged President Lincoln to allow free Black men to serve in the military. He was awarded $1,500 by Congress, and went on a tour recruiting Black men to serve. Smalls also conducted 17 missions around Charleston.
Once he became an officer in South Carolina’s militia, he ran a few businesses before going into politics. He became a member of South Carolina’s House of Representatives and State Senate. Smalls was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1874 and served two terms from 1875 to 1879.
When the Civil War started, Frederick Douglass was already well known in the United States as an activist and abolitionist leader who the country’s leaders listened to. However, Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln disagreed early in the war about whether or not formerly enslaved people should be allowed to enlist. Lincoln was hesitant to allow Black men to serve - partly because of racism, and partly because border states might get angry and join the secession. However, as the Union began running out of people, Black men began forming their own units in the South in 1862. In 1863, the official call to arms for Black men finally came.
Douglass and other abolitionists helped recruit black soldiers for the Union effort. He traveled around to recruitment meetings and listed the benefits of service, led the audience in singing Union songs, and published about the subject often in his newspaper Douglass Monthly.
Douglass’s sons Charles and Lewis were two of the first men to enlist in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, an African American battalion that had an important role in the war. His third son, Frederick Jr., helped Douglass recruit. For Douglass, wearing the uniform showed a man deserved freedom and civil rights. As Douglass said, “An eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and his bullets in his pockets… there is no power on earth… which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States.”
Susie King Taylor was born into slavery in 1848, but went to live with her free grandmother where she received a secret education. At the time, formal education for African Americans was prohibited by law. After she escaped slavery with her uncle, she joined other formerly enslaved people at St. Simons Island, which was occupied by the Union Army. She became the first Black teacher to openly educate Black people in Georgia at the young age of 14.
She married a Black officer in the 33rd United States Colored Infantry Regiment named Edward King, and worked as a nurse for them. However, when she wasn’t working as a nurse, she taught the soldiers to read and write. She also learned to shoot and “…could shoot straight and often hit the target,” according to her memoirs.
Taylor worked with the famous Civil War nurse and American Red Cross founder Clara Barton while she was working as a nurse at a hospital for Black soldiers in South Carolina. After the war, Taylor moved to Savannah, Georgia with her husband and opened a school for Black children. However, her husband died and the school failed, so she took a job working as a domestic servant for a wealthy family, and moved to Boston with them. In 1902, she became the first (and only) Black woman to write a memoir about her experience in the Civil War, titled Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops, Late 1st S.C. Volunteers.
After escaping slavery, Abraham Galloway returned to the South to free more people. Determined and fearless, he was exactly the kind of spy that the Union Army needed. During the war, he posed as a slave to get information from the confederate troops. He set up a spy network in some parts of the South, and encouraged enslaved men who sought refuge behind Union lines to join the Union cause. Galloway managed to raise three regiments of Black troops
Despite not being able to read, Galloway was a powerful speaker and capable organizer. Galloway organized both state and local chapters of the National Equal Rights League. He was part of a delegation of five Black leaders to the White House that demanded that Lincoln support civil rights for Black people.
He became one of the first Black men elected to the North Carolina legislature in 1868 when he and two other Black men were elected as state senators. Unfortunately, he had to fight voter suppression by the Ku Klux Klan in the process, and faced numerous assassination threats. As a result, he always carried a gun and led an armed black militia in North Carolina to protect against the constant intimidation. While serving as a state senator, Galloway voted to support the 14th and 15th amendments which granted citizenship and sufferance rights to Black men.
Román, Iván. “6 Black Heroes of the Civil War.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 10 Nov. 2020, www.history.com/news/black-heroes-us-civil-war-tubman-douglass-augusta-smalls-galloway.
Harriet Tubman is well known as a “conductor” of the Underground Railroad, a network of people, safe houses, and secret routes that helped fugitive slaves escape the South and get to the North, to free states or Canada. Through the Underground Railroad, she led hundreds of men, women, and children to freedom. However, once the Civil war began in 1861, Harriet Tubman also used her skills to help the Union Army.
She spent time at a Union Camp in South Carolina in 1862 working as a cook and a nurse, as well as gathering intelligence for the Union army. She organized the scouts who mapped territories and located the Confederate troops. She also became the first (and only!) woman to lead a military expedition during the Civil War in 1863 when she led 150 soldiers to launch a surprise attack on prominent secessionists. They used information she had gathered from enslaved people to avoid Confederate torpedoes, and managed to rescue more than 700 enslaved people on the way. 100 of the enslaved people they rescued that day joined the Union Army.
Tubman went on to lead more expeditions and continued gathering intelligence for the Union Army. One general was even hesitant to let her leave South Carolina because her services were so valuable to the Union Army.