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. More than 180,000 black men heeded his call to defend the Union, only to find that the path to equality would not be so straightforward.
Drawing on eye-opening firsthand accounts, Elizabeth D. Leonard restores black soldiers to their place in the arc of American history, from the Civil War and its promise of freedom up to the dawn of the twentieth 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 experiences during Reconstruction, 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, as this book abundantly demonstrates, merit a more thorough examination.