Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865

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9780316853446: Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War 1862-1865

In this unprecedented work of history, one of America's leading Civil War historians draws from nineteenth-century newspapers, letter, & soldiers' diaries to recreate the experiences of African-American troops in the Civil War. The authors richly textured narrative immerses us, battle by battle, in stories of the more than 175,000 black soldiers whose contributions have long been ignored or forgotten. More than a military history, Like Men of War is the stirring saga of people whose answer to slavery was a fierce determination to claim their full rights as citizens by force of arms.

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Review:

Although countless books have been written about the Civil War, the role of black troops has been consistently underrepresented until recently. Nearly 180,000 of them fought--mostly for the North, but a handful even took up arms for the slaveholding South. Many wanted to serve at the start of the conflict, but a variety of factors kept them on the sidelines. Until Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1862, many Union leaders--including the president--held that the war was not about slavery. Racist views caused some to question further the value of black soldiers; there was also genuine concern about how Confederates would treat captured blacks.

But, as Noah Andre Trudeau reveals, black soldiers demonstrated bravery and professionalism from the moment they suited up. He recounts well-known events, such as the 54th Massachusetts' attack on Fort Wagner, as well as less familiar ones, such as blacks' involvement in the war's last directed combat one month after Lee's surrender. There were atrocities, too: in 1864, Confederates slaughtered black prisoners of war at Fort Pillow (Southern historians once disputed this brutal act of cold-blooded murder, but most scholars accept it as true today). Although Trudeau sometimes sacrifices his narrative drive to excessive detail, Like Men of War remains a compelling book full of strong battle scenes. --John J. Miller

From Kirkus Reviews:

By National Public Radio producer Trudeau (Out of the Storm, 1994, etc.), another solid contribution to Civil War literature, this time about the experience of the so-called Colored Troops, who fought on the Union side. In recent years, films and books, particularly Joseph T. Glatthaar's Forged in Battle, have focused scholarly attention on the once-neglected exploits of the more than 175,000 black troops who fought in the Civil War. In an account more thorough and expansive than Glatthaar's, Trudeau shows little-known varieties of black military experience: Amazingly, free blacks in the South offered their military services to the Confederacy at the war's outset, before the North made abolition one of its wartime goals, and blacks in the multiracial areas of Louisiana and the Trans- Mississippi had well-developed military traditions dating back to the War of 1812. The Confederacy never made use of blacks as soldiers, however. Well before the final Emancipation Proclamation, units of back US troops were being sent into combat. Trudeau describes how, unreasonably, Northern editors and military men repeatedly asked whether the former slaves could fight as well as white men, even after units of the ``US Colored Troops'' had proved that they could. Trudeau compellingly captures many of their actions in detail, including moments of glory, like the capture of Fort Fisher by black troops on Jan. 15, 1865; moments of tragedy and bravery, like the failed July 18, 1863, assault on Fort Wagner; and moments of savagery, like the massacre of black soldiers at Fort Pillow by Confederates under Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest on April 12, 1864. Trudeau also traces the curious historical fate of the African-American soldiers after their mustering out: In the revisionist historiography and racist culture of early 20th centry America, they were forgotten, and even in African-American culture and literature, their achievements were neglected. Another fine work by Trudeau, and a good companion to Glatthaar's study. -- Copyright 1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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