February 26th, 2009
The picture above is a picture of an African American Unit that fought in the Civil War. These Union soldiers pictured were from Company E, 4th United States Colored Infantry. Theirs was one of the detachments assigned to guard the nation’s capital. The image is currently held in the Library of Congress. There is no specific date provided for the image, however, it has been narrowed down to 1865. Black soldiers began fighting for the Union after Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
The image is loaded with meaning, given it was taken shortly after African-American soldiers were allowed into the Union Army, because of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. In the 19th century, anyone seeing this image would think that it was incredibly rare to see a group of African-American’s in uniform, but it would not be shocking to them to see that there were no white members to the unit. While most of these all African-American units were headed by white officers because the Army remained segregated and black sodiers were not generally allowed to be in positions of authority, unless their white commanding officer was killed or injured in action. An African-American seeing this image in the 19th century would feel a great deal of emotion toward this photo, it was a symbol of advancement and acceptance, that they were finally able to do things that whites could do. Images of this nature are a reminder of what was in the past, as well as a symbol of hope for the future.The image illustrates the emotions of the time, and the racial differences in the United States. Blacks and whites were almost never seen in the same place by choice due to the segregation laws, and the same is said for the military. Despite the fact that these soldiers were fighting to protect the Union, they were still treated like they were inferior and separated from their fellow soldiers.
I was able to uncover a location at which it was taken, at Fort Lincoln, shortly after the unit was assembled. The Fort Lincoln location was difficult to pinpoint because, as I found out there are various parks and a foundation with that name, however this particular Fort Lincoln was located in Washington D.C. It was this unit’s job to protect the Nation’s Capital if the South was able to make it there and threaten it. As for the image itself, it is similar to all of the period in that it is in black and white and grainy, because of the quality of camera equipment. Most images of black soldiers from the Civil War show how small the units are and show them in a way that it is obvious that they are subordinate to the white officers serving as their leaders.