Men of Color to Arms!: Black Soldiers, Indian Wars, and the Quest for Equality

Overview

The story of the black soldiers who helped save the Union, conquer the West, and build the nation.
In 1863, at the height of the Civil War, Frederick Douglass promised African Americans that serving in the military offered a sure path to freedom. Once a black man became a soldier, Douglass declared, “there is no power on earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States.” More than 180,000 black men heeded his call to defend...

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Men of Color to Arms!: Black Soldiers, Indian Wars, and the Quest for Equality

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Overview

The story of the black soldiers who helped save the Union, conquer the West, and build the nation.
In 1863, at the height of the Civil War, Frederick Douglass promised African Americans that serving in the military offered a sure path to freedom. Once a black man became a soldier, Douglass declared, “there is no power on earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States.” More than 180,000 black men heeded his call to defend the Union—only to find the path to equality would not be so straightforward.
In this sharply drawn history, Professor Elizabeth D. Leonard reveals the aspirations and achievements as well as the setbacks and disappointments of African American soldiers. Drawing on eye-opening firsthand accounts, she restores black soldiers to their place in the arc of American history, from the Civil War and its promise of freedom until the dawn of the 20th century and the full retrenchment of Jim Crow.
Along the way, Leonard offers a nuanced account of black soldiers’ involvement in the Indian Wars, their attempts to desegregate West Point and gain proper recognition for their service, and their experience of Reconstruction nationally, as blacks worked to secure their place in an ever-changing nation. With abundant primary research, enlivened by memorable characters and vivid descriptions of army life, Men of Color to Arms! is an illuminating portrait of a group of men whose contributions to American history need to be further recognized.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Leonard (Lincoln's Avengers) examines the struggle of African Americans to become soldiers and citizens during the Civil War (when nearly 200,000 black men served in special "colored" units) and the postwar westward expansion. Though reconstruction held great promise for African Americans, the reality of race relations pervaded all aspects of life; whites in the defeated South chafed under black occupation, thought of armed black men as an "outrage," and provoked fights. Some in the Army argued for integration, but the majority of white officers preferred that blacks were either kept to their own units, or kept out altogether. Despite these tensions, after the Civil War black soldiers were deployed to the west, where they played a key role in forcing the remaining Indian tribes onto reservations; some of the soldiers "probably recognized the irony," Leonard argues, going on to captures the indignities suffered by black veterans of early wars, as well the first young men to enter West Point. Though Leonard is often detached and terse, the richness of her stories shines through, and first-person accounts of hardships suffered on the plains are especially gripping. (Aug.)
Mary L. Williams
“Ms. Leonard did a masterful job of extracting from the best primary and secondary sources available on frontier military history. The work is an excellent starting place for those not familiar with the service of blacks in the frontier army.”
John F. Marszalek
“Historians have written important books on the role of blacks at West Point and in the late 19th century military, but no one has written as succinct and insightful an overview as Elizabeth Leonard. Her thorough research, excellent organization, and lucid prose make this publication worthy of a wide audience.”
James M. McPherson
“Once again Elizabeth Leonard demonstrates the versatility and range of her skills as a historian and writer. This penetrating account of the black regular regiments in the U.S. Army after the Civil War joins her earlier studies of women during the Civil War and the prosecutors of Lincoln's assassins on a select shelf of important books. Of special note is her discussion of the ironies involved in the key role played by black soldiers in the wars that extinguished the title of other nonwhite Americans to millions of acres that their ancestors had possessed for thousands of years.”
Gary W. Gallagher
“Until the film Glory in 1989, few Americans knew that black soldiers fought for the Union during the Civil War. Elizabeth D. Leonard's welcome new book examines African Americans in military service during the postwar decades, assessing their role in the Indian wars and westward expansion, as well as their often frustrating search for equality within the army and as citizens. Richly detailed and beautifully written, Men of Color to Arms! illuminates an important but neglected aspect of late-19th-century United States history.”
Civil War News

“Brimming with life and in the words of those who struggled, Men of Color to Arms! is an indispensable addition to African-American historical literature. Those unfamiliar with this overlooked and long-neglected story will find illumination in Leonard’s highly recommended book.”—James A. Percoco, Civil War News

Oxford Times

“One of the most useful books to come out of the United States in recent years. . . . Leonard looses a cannon of detail that embraces both Army life and the tests that they faced to gain equality.”—Colin Gardiner, Oxford Times

Times Literary Supplement

“Leonard’s study is notable for recovering from the record, often from first-hand accounts, a plethora of names and cameos of black soldiers to give a sense not just of the scale of their participation in ‘doing the nation’s work,’ but [also] its consequences.”—Christine Bold, Times Literary Supplement

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393060393
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/23/2010
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,427,312
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth D. Leonard is the John J. and Cornelia V. Gibson Professor of History at Colby College. The author of several books, including Yankee Women, All the Daring of a Soldier, Lincoln’s Avengers, and Men of Color to Arms!, she lives in Waterville, Maine.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2011

    Highly recommended!

    Leonard's book is a fascinating study of black men's struggle for full citizenship through military service in the post-Civil War era. These brave men, who fought in the Indian wars and also strove to integrate the U. S. army's military academy at West Point, faced persistent discrimination, but they continued to do the nation's work with courage and determination nevertheless. I highly recommend this book!

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