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African Americans in the Civil War

Updated: March 3, 2022

To accompany the exhibit "African American Military Portraits From the American Civil War", LAPL created this book list for those interested in learning more about African Americans and their role in the American Civil War.

African American soldier in the Civil War : USCT, 1862-66
Lardas, Mark.
Call Number: 973.715 L321

A concise introduction to the experience of United States Colored Troops, encompassing enlistment, training, dress, daily life, and the aftermath of the war.  Uses many excerpts from soldiers’ memoirs and oral histories.

Army life in a black regiment. With an introd. by Howard Mumford Jones. Foreword by E. Franklin Frazier.
Higginson, Thomas Wentworth, 1823-1911.
Call Number: 973.7457 H637b

Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a Unitarian minister and abolitionist, was a Union colonel in charge of training black troops.  Originally published in 1870, these essays, though told from the viewpoint of a white officer, offer a detailed look at everyday camp life.

Black soldiers in blue : African American troops in the Civil War era
Call Number: 973.7415 B6275-1

An anthology of fourteen essays that explore the military, political, and social significance of the combat service of black soldiers.

A Black woman's Civil War memoirs : reminiscences of my life in camp with the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops, late 1st South Carolina Volunteers
Taylor, Susie King, 1848-1912.
Call Number: 973.7457 T246 1988

This slim volume of the random recollections of Susie King Taylor tells military history from the viewpoint of a woman.  Taylor was born a slave, and after gaining her freedom early in the war served as a laundress for the first black regiment of the United States.  As Colonel Higginson states in the introduction, this is “the plain record of simple lives led in stormy times.”

Forged in battle : the Civil War alliance of Black soldiers and white officers
Glatthaar, Joseph T., 1956-
Call Number: 973.715 G549

Examines the complex relationship between the white officers put in charge of the 166 black regiments in the Union Army.  Though divided by preconceptions and racial tensions, the troops and their officers were united by the trials and tribulations of the war they fought side by side. 

Freedom by the sword : the U.S. Colored Troops, 1862-1867
Dobak, William A., 1943-
Call Number: 973.7415 D632

Part of the Army Historical Series, this is a thoroughly researched account of how black regiments were formed, their battlefield accomplishments, and how their actions influenced the outcome of the Civil War. 

Like men of war : Black troops in the Civil War, 1862-1865
Trudeau, Noah Andre, 1949-
Call Number: 973.7415 T866

This comprehensive history of African Americans serving in the United States Army brings to life the free and slave-born, literate and illiterate, brave and ill-prepared men who made up the USCT. 

The Negro in the American rebellion : his heroism and his fidelity
Brown, William Wells, 1814?-1884.
Call Number: 973.7415 B881 2003

Published in Boston in 1867 and written by a former slave and reformer, this is the first book-length history of the African American soldier in the Union Army.  Considered by many to be flawed because of a lack of documentation and verifiable sources, it is nonetheless invaluable in telling the dramatic story of the black soldiers’ role in the Union victory and their fight to end slavery and gain equality.

The Negro in the Civil War
Quarles, Benjamin.
Call Number: 973.715 Q1 1989

A comprehensive study detailing the role of blacks in the Civil War; “the Negro’s tale was not merely a passive one; he did not tarry in the wings, hands folded.  He was an active member of the cast, prominent in the dramatis personae.” 

On the altar of freedom : a black soldier's Civil War letters from the front
Gooding, James Henry, 1837-1864.
Call Number: 973.7 G652

Remarkable series of 48 letters from Corporal James Henry Gooding, a member of the renowned 54th Massachusetts regiment (the unit was the subject of the movie Glory), to the New Bedford Mercury. Augmented with annotations and appendixes. 

The sable arm : Black troops in the Union Army, 1861-1865
Cornish, Dudley Taylor.
Call Number: 973.7415 C818 1987

A pioneering work and the first major study of the 180,000 black troops in the Union Army.

Till victory is won : black soldiers in the Civil War
Mettger, Zak.
Call Number: 973.7415 M595

A history of black soldiers in the Civil War for the Young Adult audience.  Discusses the initial reluctance to enlist black soldiers, their use for manual labor instead of combat, their determination to prove themselves on the battlefield, and their struggle for equal pay.  Richly illustrated with photographs and drawings.