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African Canadians in Union Blue

Posted on Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 8:24 am

This book is a scholarly study of why black men in Canada enlisted to fight in the Civil War; their expectations, positive and negative experiences, relationships with whites, and their service.  Some were British citizens and others were runaway slaves, ex-slaves and refugees from the South and a few were from other British colonies.  Many joined the fight to help end slavery, others for universal rights and justice, and some for financial reasons, such as bounty money.  Enlistments increased after the Emancipation Proclamation. The U.S. Navy had always been integrated, but those who wanted to join the army had to wait until black regiments were formed.

Unlike the army, those enlisting in the navy could choose the length of their enlistment from one to three years or the duration of the war.  Most served on supply vessels and in the fresh water fleet.  In 1864, 23 percent of Union sailors were black and 5 percent of those were from British North America (Canada). The black Canadians who enlisted in the Union army had the same struggles as American blacks experienced as to pay and equipment and being used for work as laborers.  Beginning in 1864, army recruits were also allowed to choose their length of service due to a shortage of volunteers and black regiments were beginning to be utilized more in combat roles. By the end of the war, 2,500 black men from British North America had joined the Union forces, with most serving in the army.

The author has done very through research with the limited records that exist.  In all seven chapters the author uses the experiences and difficulties encountered by many of the black Canadian volunteers as examples, or “case studies,” in tracking some of these volunteers up to the early 1900’s when some were receiving pensions for their service. The author gives the reader a lot more than just information on the black Canadian volunteers, by comparing and contrasting their experiences with American blacks. There is little about these men in actual combat as they were rarely used in this way.  The in-depth research and limited sources on these men does result in considerable repetition in the chapters. There are 21 photographs and six statistical charts. Those interested in the part black soldiers and sailors played in the Civil War will find another aspect of their participation in this book.

Title: African Canadians in Union Blue
Author: Richard M. Reid
Publisher: The Kent State University Press
Pages: 308
Price: $28.95
Soft Cover

-Courier book review by Duane Benell

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