By John Walker Although several overzealous Union Army field commanders organized African Americans into ad hoc militia units early in 1862 and several black regiments were mustered into service later that year, it wasn’t until after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1, 1863, that the federal government began actively recruiting and enlisting black soldiers and sailors. Emancipation as a Military Strategy In late 1862, after battlefield reverses slowed white enlistments to a trickle, Lincoln was convinced that emancipation and enlistment of blacks were crucial to winning the war. He initiated one of his most controversial and revolutionary policy directives: slaves in areas still in rebellion would be liberated, free blacks in the North and occupied South would be enlisted, and, eventually, blacks in loyal slave-holding and border states would be enlisted as well. All would serve exclusively under white officers. The president was treading on extremely sensitive ground—widespread racial discrimination was rampant in the North, and many senior Army officers and large numbers of their men strongly opposed the idea of blacks in uniform. Even after Lincoln made it clear that he expected his generals to comply with his new enlistment policies, Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, overall commander in the vast western theater, blatantly hindered recruiting efforts there. Like many Union officers, Sherman was willing to utilize b


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