When the war began, many black Americans—North and South—volunteered to serve as soldiers. United by a belief in black inferiority and fearful of racial strife, whites rejected the idea of arming black men.
Black enlistment in United States armies began in July 1862; ultimately 200,000 black men served. The vast majority were formerly enslaved men who sought to strike at slavery and improve their position in society.
A few southern soldiers and civilians suggested as early as January 1864 that the Confederacy enlist enslaved men as soldiers, but most southerners disagreed. One Confederate politician noted that, “if slaves will make good soldiers [then] our whole theory of slavery is wrong.” Desperate to avert defeat, the Confederacy authorized the enlistment of slaves on March 13, 1865, too late to affect the outcome of the war.