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Broadside, “Meeting For the Organization of a Colored Regiment in the District of Columbia,” 1863

After issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln authorized recruitment of African-American regiments. White Army officers posted recruitment notices, and black leaders including Frederick Douglass encouraged enlistment as a step toward gaining full civil rights. Some 1,500 African-American men enlisted in the District of Columbia’s First Regiment.

Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, National Archives and Records Administration

Broadside, “Meeting For the Organization of a Colored Regiment in the District of Columbia,” 1863

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.