African Americans and the American Civil War Classroom Activity

African Americans and the American Civil War

Oh freedom

Oh freedom

Oh freedom over me!

And before I’d be a slave

I’ll be buried in my grave

And go home to my Lord and be free.

The Negro Spiritual “Oh, Freedom” was written during the Civil War by emancipated black soldiers in the Union Army as they fought to end slavery.


Content Description:

The path to the Civil War was laid during the turbulent 1850’s with the passage of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1850, the Dred Scott Decision of 1857 and John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry in 1859.  When the Civil War began four million Black men, women, and children were enslaved in the United States.  Most Northerners were willing to tolerate slavery in the South.  However, they were determined to prevent the expanding of slavery in the West.  This session will examine the issues and outcomes that surrounded Blacks and the Civil War.



Guiding Questions:

When the Civil War began, what was Abraham Lincoln’s primary objective?

How did African Americans respond as the Civil War began in 1861?

How did Lincoln’s policies on slavery change as the Civil War continued?

Why did Lincoln issue the Emancipation Proclamation?

What role did African Americans play in gaining their own freedom?

How did African Americans affect the outcome of the Civil War?


Primary Sources:

“African –Americans in the Civil War,” from Deirdre Mullane edited, Crossing the Danger Water: Three Hundred Years of African-American Writing,New York: Doubleday, 1993

Excerpts from Black Writers and the American Civil War, edited by Richard A. Long, Secaucus, NJ: Blue & Grey Press, c1988:

Frederick Douglass, “Men of Color, To Arms! The Commander-in-Chief and His Black Soldiers, What the Black Man Wants”

Frances Anne Rollin regarding Major Martin Delany and other Civil War topics

William Wells Brown, “The Massacre at Fort Pillow”

Susie King Taylor, “On Morris and Other Islands”

Excerpt “Colored Troops—Camp William Penn,” from Frank H. Taylor, Philadelphia in the Civil War 1861-1865, Philadelphia, 1913

Excerpts from Thomas Morris Chester: Black Civil War Correspondent, His Dispatches from the Virginia Front

Excerpts from Martin R. Delany: A Documentary Reader


Visual Images:

Fort Wagner

Fort Pillow

Thomas Morris Chester

“Men of color” a recruiting poster signed by  fifty-five prominent free Black men including Frederick Douglass


Blacks during the Civil War Period:

Alexander T. Augusta

William H. Carney

Thomas Morris Chester

Mary Elizabeth Bowser (spy)

Martin Delany

Charles Douglass

Frederick Douglass

Lewis Douglass

F.E. Dumas

Henry Highland Garnet

John M. Langston

P.B.S. Pinchback

Charles B. Purvis

John Rapier

Charles Remond

John S. Rock

Robert Smalls

William Still

Harriet Tubman (nurse, cook, scout and liberator)

Susie King Taylor

Henry M. Turner

John Henry Woodson (a guide for Union general Philip H. Sheridan)


Whites involved during the Civil War:

John A. Andrew

John Brown

Nathan Bedford Forrest

Lucretia Mott

Abraham Lincoln

Robert Gould Shaw

Secretary of War Stanton

General William Tecumseh Sherman


Selected Topics:

Black Men in Combat

Black Soldiers and Racial Discrimination in the Military

The 54th Massachusetts Regiment

The Confederate Reaction to Black Soldiers

Union Policies towards Southern Enslaved Africans

The New York City Draft Riot


Blacks and the Confederacy

Fort Pillow Massacre



Suggested Activities:


1) Map:

  • Have student identify free states, border states, confederate states and terrorities or unorganized as of 1861.

  • Have students identify sites of major battles in which Black soldiers fought.

2) Create a timeline of events leading up to the Civil War.

3) Create a timeline of events during the Civil War.

4) Have students examine and discuss a Civil War document.

5) Have students view the Civil War from the viewpoints of free and enslaved Africans.

6) Have students examine and research African American participation in the Civil War.

7) Have students examine and research the number of Colored regiment during the Civil War.

8) Have student examine one of the African Americans who helped to recruit Colored soldiers.

9) Have students trace the life and experiences of one Colored soldier.

10) Have students watch documentary on the 54th Massachusetts, take notes and verify information through research.

11) Have students critique the film Glory for its historical accuracy.






Annie Heloise Abel. The American Indian as Slaveholder and Secessionist: An Omitted Chapter in the Diplomatic History of the Southern Confederacy,Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark, 1915.

Stephen V. Ash. Firebrand of Liberty: The Story of Two Black Regiments that change the course of the Civil War, New York: W. W. Norton, 2008.

Allen B. Ballard. Where I’m Bound, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.

R.J.M. Blackett, edited.  Thomas Morris Chester: Black Civil War Correspondent, His Dispatches from the Virginia Front, New York: Da Capo Paperback, 1989.

Committee of Merchants for the Relief of the Colored People, Suffering from the Late Riots in the City of New York, New York: George A. Whitehorn, steam printer, 1863.

Margaret S Creighton. The Colors of Courage: Gettysburg’s Forgotten History Immigrants, Women, and African Americans in the Civil War’s Defining Battle, New York: Perseus Books Group, 2005.

Ron Gancus. Fields of Freedom: United States Colored Troops: Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Black Civil War Soldier, Pittsburgh, PA: Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum Trust, 2004.

Joel Chandler Harris. On the Plantation: A Story of a Georgia Boy’s Adventures during the War, New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1892.

Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Army Life in a Black Regiment, Boston: Lee and Shepard; New York: Charles T. Dillingham, 1882.

Jenkins Company. The South, the Civil War, Negroes and Slavery, Austin, Tex: The Company, 1981?

Ervin L. Jordan. Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia, Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1995.

Thomas Wallace Knox. Camp-fire and Cotton-field: Southern Adventure in the Time of War, Cincinnati, Ohio: Jones Bros. & Co., 1865.

Robert S. Levine, edited. Martin R. Delany: A Documentary Reader, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Harry Bradshaw Matthews. Voices from the Front Line: New York’s African American Statesmen of the Underground Railroad Freedom Trail and the United States Colored Troops Organized in the Empire State 1863-1865, Oneonta, New York: Hartwick College, 2000.

A.H. Newton. Out of the Briars: An Autobiography and Sketch of the Twenty-ninth Regiment, Connecticut Volunteers, Philadelphia: A.M.E. Book Concern, 1910.

Edwin S. Redkey, edited. A Grand Army of Black Men, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Jessie Ethelyn Sexton, Congregationalism, Slavery and the Civil War, Lansing: Michigan Civil War Centennial Observance Commission, 1966.

Susan Sinnott, Welcome to Addy’s World, 1864, Middleton, WI: Pleasant Co. Publishers, 1999.

United States, National Archives and Records Service. Tabular Analysis of the Records of the U.S. Colored Troops and Their Predecessor Units in the National Archives of the United States, Compiled by Joseph B. Ross, Washington: National Archives and Records Service, 1973.

Gregory J.W. Urwin. Black Flag over Dixie: Racial Atrocities and Reprisals in the Civil War, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004.

John Zubritsky. Fighting Men: A Chronicle of Three Black Civil War Fighting Men, Boston, MA: Branden Publishing Company, 1994.

United States Congress Joint Committee on the Conduct of War, 1864.  Fort Pillow massacre: May 5, 1864. Reports of the Committee on the Conduct of the War. Washington, D.C.: G.P.O., 1864.


Compiled by Dr. Diane D. Turner and Librarian Aslaku Berhanu, Charles L. BLockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries