Before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, he made a last-minute change – a paragraph authorizing the army to recruit black soldiers. Over the next two years, approximately 180,000 soldiers and 18,000 sailors joined the cause. Several thousand came from Canada.
What compelled these young men to leave the relative comfort and safety of home to face death on the battlefield, loss of income for their families, and legal sanctions for participating in a foreign war? Drawing on newspapers, autobiographies, and military and census records, Richard Reid pieces together a portrait of a group of men who served the Union in disparate ways – as soldiers, sailors, or doctors – but who all believed that the principles of liberty, justice, and equality were worth fighting for, regardless of which side of the border they made their home.
By bringing the courage and contributions of these men to light, African Canadians in Union Blue opens a window on the changing nature of the Civil War and the ties that held black communities together even as the borders around them shifted or were torn asunder.
This book will appeal to students and enthusiasts of the Civil War, crossborder history, and the history of black communities in North America.
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Richard M. Reid’s engaging and well-researched examination of the nearly 2,500 African Canadians who served in the Union Army is a must-read for anyone interested in the black experience during the American Civil War… thanks to Reid’s fascinating and important study, the sacrifice, courage, and determination of these African Canadians can now find their proper place in the history of the American Civil War.
Despite access to a huge body of scholarship on black military service in the Civil War, we have, until now, known almost nothing of the Afro-Canadians who served in the United States Colored Troops. Richard Reid’s earlier work on the recruitment of the USCT, black veterans, and the medical history of black units has prepared him especially well for writing this fresh, original book. African Canadians in Union Blue will attract considerable attention.
African Canadians in Union Blue is a book about black agency, black participation in one of the most significant events of the nineteenth century, how black people crossed the transnational border, and how permeable it had become by 1861. It is richly documented, compellingly argued, and promises to have a place on the shelves of every historian of the black experience in North America and historians of the American Civil War.
Richard Reid tells the story of a group of men whose commitment to “Liberty, Justice, and Equality” gave them the strength to overcome legal sanctions as British subjects and racial discrimination in the United States to enlist for the cause. Told with verve and conviction, African Canadian in Union Blue brings to light their extensive contributions to the northern victory.
Richard M. Reid is a professor emeritus at the University of Guelph and the author of several books on Canadian and American history, including Freedom for Themselves: North Carolina’s Black Soldiers in the Civil War Era.
1 British North America: Glory Land or the Least-Worst Option?
2 The Black Response: What the Numbers Mean
3 Blacks in the Navy: A Different Military Experience
4 Promises Deferred: In the Army, 1863-64
5 Promises Fulfilled: In the Army, 1864-65
6 Black Doctors: Challenging the Barriers
7 Post-War Life: Continuity and Change
Appendix: Establishing the location of black British North American veterans, 1865-75
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