Brief article (though supporting a much more indepth book) by a Canadian professor on the black Canadians who fought for the Union cause. I’d been reading earlier this week about escaped slaves in Canada signing up for militia units to protect their new homes. This is an interesting counterpiece.
The black recruits who joined did so for many reasons. Anderson Abbott, the first Canadian-born black doctor, believed most fought to give “the world a higher conception of the value of human liberty.” Others were caught up in the excitement and adventure. Money also played a role, for by 1863 a knowledgeable recruit could earn hundreds of dollars in bounties or substitute fees.
Most of the African Canadians volunteering came from a hardscrabble working-class background and were supporting elderly parents, wives and children. The enlistment money allowed their dependants some financial security in their absence.
The timing of the black enlistment, however, suggests that one factor — fair treatment — was paramount. Some African Canadians volunteered as soon as black regiments began recruiting. Their numbers peaked in January 1864 and then slowed to a trickle by April, likely a result of Canadian black communities learning that some black regiments were being treated as second-class soldiers and assigned excessive fatigue duties and menial work. Canadian papers also carried reports of Confederate atrocities where black prisoners were cut down in cold blood.