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Lincoln and the U.S. Colored Troops

Lincoln and the U.S. Colored Troops

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John David Smith


Hardcover (Other formats: E-book)
168 pages, 5 x 8

Concise Lincoln Library


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About the Book

When Abraham Lincoln issued his final Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, he not only freed the slaves in the Confederate states but also invited freed slaves and free persons of color to join the U.S. Army as part of the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), the first systematic, large-scale effort by the U.S. government to arm African Americans to aid in the nation’s defense. By the end of the war in 1865, nearly 180,000 black soldiers had fought for the Union. Lincoln’s role in the arming of African Americans remains a central but unfortunately obscure part of one of the most compelling periods in American history.  In Lincoln and the U.S. Colored Troops John David Smith offers a concise, enlightening exploration of the development of Lincoln’s military emancipation project, its implementation, and the recruitment and deployment of black troops.  

Though scholars have written much on emancipation and the USCT, Smith’s work frames the evolution of Lincoln’s ideas on emancipation and arming blacks within congressional actions, explaining how, when, and why the president seemed to be so halting in his progression to military emancipation. After tracing Lincoln’s evolution from opposing to supporting emancipation as a necessary war measure and to championing the recruitment of black troops for the Union Army, Smith details the creation, mobilization, and diverse military service of the USCT. He assesses the hardships under which the men of the USCT served, including the multiple forms of discrimination from so-called friends and foes alike, and examines the broad meaning of Lincoln’s military emancipation project and its place in African American historical memory.


John David Smith, the Charles H. Stone Distinguished Professor of American History at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, is the author, editor, or coeditor of twenty-four books, including Black Judas: William Hannibal Thomas and “The American Negro,” Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era, and An Old Creed for the New South. Smith also edits nine book series.


"Well-crafted and concise, this book is both a good basic survey of USCT history and a useful study of Lincoln's status among his black troops."—Choice

"[Smith] has written a riveting, often neglected half of this transformative project. It’s a must read for anyone interested in African American soldiers, Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War."—The Civil War Book Review

"John David Smith has written an excellent book on a major topic, and it deserves a wide reading."—Civil War News

“A fine, concise exploration of the formation, engagement, sacrifices, and contributions of the USCT during the Civil War, rich with primary source material and alive with the voices of those who participated in this transformative development in American history.”—Elizabeth D. Leonard, author of Men of Color to Arms! Black Soldiers, Indian Wars, and the Quest for Equality

“John David Smith, the preeminent expert on African American troops in the Civil War, has produced a deeply insightful study. Herein Smith shows clearly and conclusively that Abraham Lincoln made black soldiers the very linchpin of his decisions for winning the war, saving the Union, destroying slavery, and leading America toward the hope of racial equality.”—T. Michael Parrish, Baylor University

“Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation not only freed the slaves but also armed African American men. Focusing on the more neglected half of this transformative project, Smith examines Lincoln’s journey from opponent of the enlistment of black soldiers to a soldier’s champion, recounts blacks’ recruitment and mobilization, and analyzes the evolution of their roles from manual laborers to garrison troops, and finally to fighting men. Smith tells this large and significant story clearly, economically, and persuasively.”—James L. Roark, Emory University

"Smith succeeds in his goal of crafting a concise, readable survey of a significant aspect of the American Civil War. His book deserves to enjoy many classroom adoptions." —Allan Peskin, History: Reviews of New Books
"[The book] is an excellent read for anyone who wants to see how Grant evolved as a commander, and how a Civil War army was commanded."—Timothy SmithStrategyPage