Shoulders of the Ancestors

February 2014

The reason I appear to be standing so tall is because my feet are firmly planted on the shoulders of my ancestors

African Americans in the Civil War

As we continue to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War (1861-1865) two special events during the rebellion should be incorporated in our discussions and/or lessons: the role of African Americans in the Civil War, and the Emancipation Proclamation. Both events were central to the Union's victory against the Confederacy.


While contemporaries of the Civil War, and historians extensively debated the "cause" of the War Between the States, African Americans knew immediately that the open conflict provided another opportunity to strike for freedom.


An Atlantic Monthly article (February 2013) by Ta-Nehisi Coates on "Why Do So Few Blacks Study the Civil War?" was an excellent place for me to regain my understanding of the role of African Americans in the Civil War.

Coates makes a stirring statement in the article when he so truthfully stated:


“For African Americans, war commenced not in 1861, but in 1661, when the Virginia Colony began passing America’s first black codes, the charter documents of a slave society that rendered blacks a permanent servile class and whites a mass aristocracy. They were also a declaration of war".


Below are additional links to enhance your knowledge of the role of African Americans in the Civil War. Several have LESSON PLANS for educators.

Museum and Agency Websites Featuring the Civil War

The HISTORY CHANNEL provides several short videos on African Americans in the Civil War that can be viewed by the entire class or at a learning center. Consider assigning these short videos as Warm Ups or as lesson extensions.


When you are in the Washington D.C.area consider touring the AFRICAN AMERICAN CIVIL WAR MEMORIAL and MUSEUM.

Books on African Americans in the Civil War

A major strike for ending enslavement was the contribution of African Americans in the Civil War. By the end of the Civil War, roughly 179,000 black men (10% of the Union Army) served as soldiers in the United States Army and another 19,000 served in the Navy.


Black soldiers served in artillery and infantry and performed all non-combat support functions that sustain an army, as well. Black carpenters, chaplains, cooks, guards, laborers, nurses, scouts, spies, steamboat pilots, surgeons, and teamsters also contributed to the war cause.


There were nearly 80 black commissioned officers. Black women, who could not formally join the Army, nonetheless served as nurses, spies, and scouts.

Fighters for Freedom


Through primary source images and with text students will learn about President Lincoln's initial reluctance to recruit African Americans, the contributions of runaway slaves, and how African Americans contributed to the Union's victory over the Confederacy.


The NATIONAL PARKS SERVICE website offers numerous links for the study of the Civil War as well as links for the Underground Railroad.


CLICK HERE or click on the image below to view a short video from the CIVIL WAR TRUST's website featuring noted historian Hari Jones presenting the history of African Americans in the Civil War.  In addition the CIVIL WAR TRUST has an excellent lesson plan on the African American soldier during the Civil War. The lesson utilizes primary source documents as it presents the war as a cause for African Americans to secure rights and citizenship.


The NATIONAL ARCHIVES website provides several primary source documents on: The Fight for Equal Rights: Black Soldiers in the Civil War. The site includes printouts of the documents as well as a document analysis worksheet.

SHOULDERS OF THE ANCESTORS is a division of AFRICAN AMERICAN POSTERS & PRESENTATIONS (AAPP) . AAPP provides classroom tested educational posters and learning charts that utilize the new scholarship in African and African American history and culture. The graphics on our learning charts are selected to engage students. Visit us today at www.aahistoryposters.com.