The Civil War changed the United States in many ways—economic, political, and social. Of these changes, none was more important than Emancipation. Besides freeing nearly four million slaves, it brought agricultural wage labor to a reluctant South and gave a vote to black adult males in the former slave states. It also offered former slaves new opportunities in education, property ownership—and military service. From late 1862 to the spring of 1865, as the Civil War raged on, the federal government accepted more than 180,000 black men as soldiers, something it had never done before on such a scale.
Known collectively as the United States Colored Troops and organized in segregated regiments led by white officers, some of these soldiers guarded army posts along major rivers; others fought Confederate raiders to protect Union supply trains, and still others took part in major operations like the Siege of Petersburg and the Battle of Nashville. After the war, many of the black regiments took up posts in the former Confederacy to enforce federal Reconstruction policy. Freedom by the Sword tells the story of these soldiers' recruitment, organization, and service. Thanks to its broad focus on every theater of the war and its concentration on what black soldiers actually contributed to Union victory, this volume stands alone among histories of the U.S. Colored Troops.