Black soldiers could not officially join the Union army until the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863. But, on the ground, they had been fighting and dying from the beginning.
When three escaped slaves arrived at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia, in May, 1861, Union General Benjamin Butler had to make a choice. Under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, he was compelled to return the men into the hands of the slaveowner. But Virginia had just signed the ordinances of secession. Butler determined that he was now operating in a foreign territory and declared the men “contraband of war.”
When more enslaved men, women and children arrived at the fort, Butler wrote to Washington for advice. In these early days of the Civil War, Lincoln avoided… The Uncertain Promise of Freedom’s Light: Black Soldiers in The Civil War | Around The Mall.