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The Experience of Liberation Previous Next
Digital History ID 464


Slaves played a pivotal role in their own liberation. During the first two years of the Civil War, federal officials refused to enlist black soldiers in the Union Army. But by early 1863, voluntary enlistments had fallen so sharply that the federal government instituted an unpopular military draft and decided to enroll black troops. Indeed, it was the availability of black troops that allowed President Lincoln to resist demands for a negotiated peace that might have retained slavery in the United States.

Altogether, 186,000 black soldiers served in the Union Army and another 29,000 served in the Navy, accounting for nearly 10 percent of all Union forces and 68,178 of the Union dead or missing. Three-fifths of all black troops were former slaves. The active participation of black troops made it inconceivable that African Americans would remain in slavery after the Civil War.

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