Today in History: African Americans Authorized To Serve in Confederate Army

This Week in Civil War History: African Americans Authorized To Serve in Confederate Army

Today in 1865, with the the Confederacy getting weaker by the day against the stronger Union Army, the Confederate army allowed the induction of “negro soldiers” into their ranks. The measure did not state that blacks who fought for the Confederacy would be free, although that was apparently the understanding. The Union had lifted an earlier ban on African Americans in their ranks in 1862 due to the “escalating number of former slaves, the declining number of white volunteers, and the increasingly pressing personnel needs of the Union Army.” (

“By the end of the Civil War, roughly 179,000 black men (10% of the Union Army) served as soldiers in the U.S. Army and another 19,000 served in the Navy. Nearly 40,000 black soldiers died over the course of the war—30,000 of infection or disease. Black soldiers served in artillery and infantry and performed all noncombat support functions that sustain an army, as well. Black carpenters, chaplains, cooks, guards, laborers, nurses, scouts, spies, steamboat pilots, surgeons, and teamsters also contributed to the war cause. There were nearly 80 black commissioned officers. Black women, who could not formally join the Army, nonetheless served as nurses, spies, and scouts, the most famous being Harriet Tubman, who scouted for the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers.” (

During this time, Onondaga County’s David W. Nelson of the New York State Volunteers, 117th Company A, is in Wilmington, North Carolina waiting for orders to head towards the front lines and Sherman’s army.

55th entry  12 March: Are yet in the city and quartered in the old house.  Look around the city, go to the city hall which is used by us as a hospital for our paroled prisoners.  As a general thing the people appear to like the change and are disappointed in the treatment they get.  In the evening I attend the Colored Church, the house was crowded and the service was conducted in a very creditable manner.  The weather is very fine.

56th entry  13 March: Still in the city we are on detail for cutting piles for wharf.  We shall move out to the woods.  Send a letter home.  Nothing to do as yet, but look around the city.

57th entry  14 March: Get orders to proceed from town this morning. Get axes and go out to camp where all is commotion over orders for marching.  We have 2 days rations and are to break camp at 12PM on the morrow.

58th entry  15 March: Start out at 6AM, the road is very muddy.  Some parts there is clay. We halt at 12 an pitch our tents near south Washington.  There is plenty of foraging here.  A party from the Brigade goes out to gather for the Crowd.  The weather has cleared up fine, but the night it is rather cold.