Menu
Image 1 of
Zoom In
Zoom Out
Fullscreen

Ambrotype, portrait of a black sailor, no date, Gladstone Collection

Many Civil War soldiers and sailors had their portraits made as keepsakes for loved ones. This sailor was one of approximately 198,000 African Americans who joined Union forces in the war to end slavery in the United States.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Ambrotype, portrait of a black sailor, no date, Gladstone Collection

Fighting for Freedom

Though African Americans fought in previous wars, they were not legally allowed to fight for the U.S. until 1862. With growing resistance to the draft and a demand for additional troops, Congress recognized the need for black soldiers and sailors. The Militia Act of 1862 allowed President Abraham Lincoln to recruit African-American men for military service. Some 198,000 African Americans fought in the Civil War—for the Union, for freedom, and for their right to full citizenship.