When the war broke out black men enthusiastically offered their services. Although both a symbol and a participant in the War, they were denied enlistment on both sides.
For blacks, success for the Union meant freedom. But military tradition, beginning with the Militia Act in 1792, barred blacks from the armed forces, despite the fact 5,000 Negroes had helped America gain independence in 1783, and had fought in every war since colonial times.
Slavery was the basic cause of the war, but certain factors, at first, were to bar Negroes from both armies.
What of the Missouri slave? Like his colleagues elsewhere, he enthusiastically offered his services only to have them refused. This was a white man's war; the Negro could not make a soldier. To arm the Negroes was to confess the North could not get the job done without them.
In the South, to arm the blacks was to incite slave revolts. Once a soldier, it would be impossible to re-enslave blacks or keep slaves in bondage. Men who fight for their country have a right to claim their citizenship. Nowhere was a greater effort made to maintain the status quo than in Missouri, particularly because of its divided loyalty.
In the North, Lincoln's determination was to save the Union, not to free the slaves. It was a practical decision, for if the North lost, slavery would be more deeply entrenched than ever.
For this reason, Lincoln was deeply concerned about the border slave states which remained in the Union--Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri. Realizing Missouri's importance, Lincoln stated if the state joined the South, the job of preserving the Union would be "too large for us." He thus made every effort to keep the state loyal.
Missouri was torn by strife from within and without. Since 1854, it had carried on a border war with Kansas. The state was divided into Northern sympathizers and Southern slave holders.
In January, 1861, Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson, a Southern sympathizer, asked the Missouri Assembly to convene a State Convention and proposed Missouri should "stand by her sister states." The secessionists lost by 110,000 to 30,000 votes. Another Convention, presided over by former Governor Sterling Price, voted in favor of remaining in the Union and adjourned on March 22, 1861.
Unionists, under Captain Nathaniel Lyon, arrived in St. Louis with regular troops on February 6, and Flank Blair, a Republican. set up a Committee of Public Safety.
Governor Jackson was an outright secessionist. When Lincoln fixed Missouri's quota of volunteers at 4,000 men Jackson refused to comply. Lyon then moved upon Camp Jackson, not far from the St. Louis arsenal, and forced its surrender.
In a fracas, during which Southern sympathizers fired on Unionist troops, 28 civilians were killed and others wounded. Governor Jackson called for 50,000 volunteers but was forced to flee to the southwest part of Missouri when Lyon's force occupied Jefferson City.
Unionist forces held another Convention in July, 1861, declared all state offices vacant and elected conservative Hamilton R. Gamble. Provisional Governor Lincoln sought to compensate owners of the border states if they would emancipate their slaves.
Internecine strife broke out. Kansas Jayhawkers Jim Lane and Charles Jennison, and notorious Missouri border ruffians and bushwhackers, especially Quantrill's Raiders, wrought terror, death, rape, arson and murder upon the divided State. While 109,000 Missourians fought for the Stars and Stripes of the Union. 30,000 fought for the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy.
Realizing in 1862, he must do something drastic to preserve the Union, especially when 21 of the 28 border Congressmen turned down his offer of compensated emancipation, Lincoln informed them he might have to strike for the sake of the Union.
On July 17, 1862, Congress gave Lincoln authority to use Negro troops. On July 31, 1863, Lincoln ordered all able-bodied blacks be enlisted in the Union Army. All such volunteers or draftees would be free. Abolitionists -- white and black--were overjoyed for they had been urging Lincoln constantly to use the "sable" arm.
Once decided upon the use of black troops, Lincoln made earnest efforts to enlist them. He sent Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas in May, 1863, into the Mississippi Valley to enroll them.
For Negroes, it was the dawn of a new day. They eagerly sought to enlist. Altogether Missouri sent 8,400 Negroes to fight in the Union Army helping Missouri to fill its quota.
Although many Negroes were volunteers, others like white men, had to be drafted. Still others, like their white comrades, sought to evade the draft. Officers were accused of using strong-armed methods to induce both races to " join up." Lincoln ordered such action stopped.
Yet many Negroes, who would have enlisted, were dissuaded by conservative officials and by guerrillas who tortured, beat and hanged prospective enlistees. Hundreds ran away some going as far as Massachusetts to enlist.
Some blacks enlisted as substitutes for white men, others joined in order to get a bounty of $100 if the slave was drafted; $300 if the slave volunteered. The masters, however, received the bounty.
Discrimination followed the Negro into the Army. Negroes, like whites, were promised a bounty but not until the war was over did they receive it. While white soldiers received $13 a month of which three dollars was for clothing and also one ration, Negro soldiers were given $10 a month, three of which was for clothing and one ration.
Blacks were given inferior weapons and materials, inadequate medical care and, if captured, were killed, until Lincoln and Grant threatened to treat captured Confederates in a similar manner. Negro soldiers as well as white soldiers were often bounty jumpers, many blacks seeking the promised land of Kansas, Iowa, and other free states.
Slaves performed other valuable services for the Union Army besides fighting. They acted as informants and spies pointing out locations of bushwhackers and guerrillas. Black men worked as teamsters, cooks, builders of breast works and in other non-combat capacities. Many black women acted as nurses.
Others contributed to the Union cause in a variety of ways. Most important of these women was Mrs. Lincoln's confidant and friend, the beautiful Mrs. Elizabeth Keckley of St. Louis. She accompanied Mrs. Lincoln to the White House, spoke before abolitionist groups and raised money for Negro contrabands.
In 1865, the Confederacy fell, with President Davis making a last effort to save it by using Negro troops.
Governor Thomas C. Fletcher ended slavery in Missouri on January 11, 1865, by executive proclamation. Eleven months and twelve days later, slavery was abolished in the United States by the Thirteenth Amendment.
The war held out bright hopes for Missouri blacks. Psychologically, the War had a tremendous effect upon the Negro soldier. He went into the army as a property he came out a man. It restored his humanness. Legally blacks were free, but the road ahead was one of bitter trials and disappointments for them.