The Civil War: Changing Roles of African Americans and Women

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Last updated: February 12, 2019

Lopez, Robert Gillis-Smith, Beth English M01A The Civil War: Changing Roles Of African Americans And Women There were several events that lead to the American Civil War. The Northern states wanted African Americans to be free from slavery, while the Southern states wanted to continue owning them.

The Northern states didn’t need slaves for their economy to thrive, as opposed to the Southern states, where their economy relied heavily on the slave’s free labor.Both sides also argued on whether or not the newly acquired states should be free states or slave states, but since the North’s population growth exceeded the South’s, they had more power in the government. The Northern sates had most of the electoral votes and that allowed them to decide who would win the election of 1860.

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The election of 1860, the year Abraham Lincoln was elected president of America. Abraham Lincoln strongly supported abolition. His views went against the Southerner’s beliefs.

Once he was elected into office, the Southern states drew the line.A month after he won the election, the Southern states started seceding. That was the final step towards starting the war. There were now two sides, the Northern Union states, and the Southern Confederate states.

April 12, 1861, the Confederate army attacked fort Sumter, marking the beginning of the American Civil War. The American Civil War changed the lives of many. After the war nothing could go back to being the same. The group of people who felt the changes most were African Americans and women.

Their roles in American society changed during the war and after.The idea of women being fragile, weak, and dependent of a husband had vanished. Women took up their husband’s responsibilities and helped the wounded men that were at war.

Some women went to the extreme and disguised themselves as men and actually fought in the war. They were viewed with a new sense of respect. Women proved that they could be strong and independent, that they could do anything a man could do. As for the African American community, they waited, anxiously, to see what the outcome might be. Some Slaves from the south ran away to the North in hope to be freed from their masters.Others joined the union army, and according to the web article, Slave Resistance during the Civil War (sidebar), they made up 15% of the Union Army by the end of the war.

This war determined whether they were to be set free, or continue to be slaves. From here on out things started changing. Lincoln started calling in troops to fight against the Confederates.

Many men left their homes to join the war, leaving their wives at home. The wives were now in charge of not only taking care of the house and kids, they were also responsible for bringing an income to support the family.Some women were also left in charge of their husbands family business, like 30-year-old Southern women, Elizabeth Thorn. She was a mother of three and became pregnant in 1863. During the war, Elizabeth took care of her home, raised her children, and took over her husbands work in running the family business, the town cemetery. She even took the time to feed and shelter generals and troops whenever they needed it. Unfortunately for her, she was forced to evacuate her home when the war was getting to close to her home.Elizabeth returned later on only to find that the Union soldiers had ransacked her home (Wayne).

After working so hard to keep her family’s future, she lost everything in a matter of days. This situation was common among the Southern women. Since most of the war was fought in the South, some women lost everything they had once the Union soldiers came in and took over. Women started breaking from the traditional attitudes that women were limited to housework and raising children. Since many men were fighting the war, they needed nurses to attend them.Over three thousand American women were paid nurses. There were thousand more that volunteered (Wayne).

Mary Elizabeth Massey wrote in her book, Women In The Civil War, that “although conditioned in contrasting environments and schooled in opposing philosophies, women stepped forward as defenders of their respective causes”. She goes on and writes, “Emotions, energies, and talents that even they did not realize they possessed were unleashed. ” She writes about how women proved themselves to more then just housewives.

Before the war, few women were nurses. Being a nurse was a man’s job, but now that most men got called out to the war they were in need of nurses. Since women had the time to help, several volunteered themselves. Many men thought the job wouldn’t be appropriate for them. They didn’t want their delicate women to be subjected to the horrors of war, but as time went on they realized how strong they were, mentally and physically.

Although a large amount of them were untrained to be nurses, they did an excellent job attending the soldiers.Some women demonstrated their leadership skills, like Dorothea Dix who stepped forward and became the Union Superintendent of Nurses. She recruited volunteer nurses that were over the age of 30 and were “plain looking women”.

She recruited these women because she didn’t want people to think that the women were there for the men’s sexual desires. Since there had already been a big controversy were women were being called prostitutes for being nurses (Wayne). Other women took their housekeeping skills to the soldiers’ camps, cooking and doing their laundry. A few women worked as spies for their side.In the Union, the most effective spy they had was Elizabeth Van Lew. According to the article, Women In The Civil War, she helped Federal prisoners escape from Richmond and was also able to obtain information for Ulysses S. Grant that helped him capture the Confederate’s capital. Elizabeth Van Lew did not perform this courageous act alone, she had her former slave, Mary Elizabeth Bowser, help her.

Lew sent her to school before the war had started. Once the war started, she sent Bowser to become the slave of the president of the Confederate States, Jefferson Davis.Bowser pretended she could not read, then stole confidential memos when Davis wasn’t looking. She sometimes eavesdropped on his conversations when she was serving his dinner. The Union wasn’t the only side that had spies, the article continues and talks about the spies that the Confederate States had. Among them was Rose O’Neal Greenhow, she was able to send secret messages to the confederate soldiers, turning the First Battle of Bull Run (First Battle of Manassas) into a confederate victory. At first, Abraham Lincoln was against using African Americans in the Union Army.

He told generals that it would make the Southerners angry. Lincoln said that if they were to arm African Americans it would make the southerners think that the war was about freeing the slaves and that would anger them. It would alienate Border States such as Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Delaware, which were allowed slaves while still being part of the Union (Kauffman). Despite the official policy that denied African Americans the right to join the army, some generals were still recruiting.

They realized that the army they had (which was made up entire of white men) wasn’t going to win the war. Soldiers were getting killed faster then they could get replaced and they needed all the help they could get. Lincoln still didn’t agree with what the generals were doing, but he allowed it to happen. During the war many African Americans started running away from the South hoping to escape slavery.

The African Americans in the North, that had never been anyone’s slave, were now at risk of being accused as a run-away slave and getting sent “back” to the South.Once Abraham Lincoln passed the Emancipation Proclamation, African Americans were now allowed to join the union army. Once word spread out to South about this, many African Americans from the South ran away to the North to join the army to fight for their freedom. According to the web article History of African Americans in the Civil War “Approximately 180,000 African Americans comprising 163 units served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and many more African Americans served in the Union Navy. Both free African-Americans and runaway slaves joined the fight.

Now this showed people that the Africans Americans were willing to fight in the war, but quite a few people thought that they didn’t have the heart to fight in this war, but in October 1862 the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer soldiers were able to fight off the Confederate Soldier in the battle of Island Mound, Missouri, silencing their critics (Kauffman). As General Hunter writes “They are sober, docile, attentive, and enthusiastic, displaying great natural capacities for acquiring the duties of a soldier.They are eager beyond all things to take the field and be led into action; and it is the unanimous opinion… that in the peculiarities of this climate and country, they will prove invaluable auxiliaries, fully equal to the similar regiments so long and successfully used by the British authorities in the West Indies.

” People were in shock to see that African Americans were able to fight. They proved themselves to be, somewhat, equal to the other soldiers. After the won was won, the lives of the African Americans and women did not go back to how it was, it would never be the same.Some women liked their newly acquired sense of independence and continued supporting her family by themselves. African Americans were now free and equal in the eyes of the government, but not in the eyes of many white men.

Now the African Americans had created a new image for themselves. They weren’t just a group of uneducated slaves. They were soldiers capable of fighting of armies just as any other white soldiers could. Women in the South had it harder then women in the North. Some women lost their husband in the war and were now left to support the family, and to make matters worse, Confederate currency was now worthless.On a lighter note, women had now broken away from their old image.

They were now on the same level as the men. Working by their side as equals in hospitals, offices, factories, and political organizations. The article, Women In The Civil War, explains that after the war, women also started getting more informed on issues that had impacts on them. They also began to speak up about military and political topics, showing everyone that they were literate and “had the capacity to form well-reasoned opinions.

Other women felt empowered and worked for a higher education. Now for the African Americans, now free and equal to everyone else according to the law, still had it hard. Four million African Americans were now free. Many of them lived in the South, which made it harder for them to survive on their own. Some had to back into serving their old master as an indentured servant. Black Codes were established, severely limiting the rights of freed slaves (Allard). The American Civil War changed the images of women and African Americans.Both broke away from their old images, and both tried to establish their new image.

Women proved that they could be independent and do anything a man could do and with the same results. The jobs that weren’t available to them before were now open to them. The Civil War gave women that extra push they needed to move them away from the ideals that confined women to stay at home. For African Americans, the biggest and most obvious change for them was that they were now free and equal to everyone, even though they weren’t treated that way.

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