Ethnicity, Race, and the Military

Photo of African American soldier

Racial and ethnic groups played an important role in both armies during the Civil War. Many black soldiers fought for the North, enraging Southerners on the battlefield. Hispanic soldiers fought on both sides. American Indians acted as scouts and guides, hoping to regain land and freedom if they aided the victors.

Unfortunately, it would be decades before significant numbers of Americans recognized the considerable contributions of ethnic groups that had suffered chronic discrimination and a racial group that had been alternately enslaved, segregated, or ignored for more than 200 years.

Showing results 6-10 of 10

  • Recruiting Poster for the 69th New York, comprised entirely of Irish Americans

    Although many Irishmen were found throughout the Union, and to a lesser degree, Confederate forces, numerous specifically "Irish" regiments and companies enabled new immigrants to join comrades with a similar background. Most famous was the Irish Brigade of the Army of the Potomac, particularly distinguished for hard fighting at Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Gettysburg. Read more

  • Photo of three African American boys in a Union army camp

    For thousands of African Americans during the Civil War, Washington, D.C. was a beacon of freedom - and a place where they could work to assist the war effort. There they found themselves digging fortifications, driving wagons, or cooking, but as free men and women selling their services, many for the first time in their lives. Read more

  • Fort Sumter National Monument

    Robert Small's Journey to Freedom

    The

    In Civil War Charleston, slave Robert Smalls commandeered a Confederate vessel, piloting it to freedom and embarking on a journey that ultimately led him to the halls of Congress. Read more

  • Engraving of soldier warming himself by a fire  Photo of U.S. Sanitary Commission office.

    The course of the war was the cumulative result of political, economic, and social policies that affected (and were affected by) military operations and battles waged across a front spanning 2,000 miles. The battles and campaigns of 1861-65 ultimately demonstrated that the simple application of massive military force, even with innovations in technologies and tactics, was insufficient to resolve a conflict between two sections mobilized against one another politically, socially, philosophically, economically, and emotionally. Read more

  • Photo of the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, with Shaw on horseback accompanying his 54th Massachusetts Infantry

    The individuality of the figures in the Shaw Memorial is one of the monument's most striking and affecting characteristics. This version is on display at the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site near Cornish, New Hampshire. Read more

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