In the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), both slaves and free blacks served on both the sides for the British and the North American colonies. In the War of 1812, African Americans served primarily in the 26th Infantry. In the National Archives and Records Administration files, a “B” typically follows the name of servicemen whose physical descriptions were black or mulatto. African Americans served in the Mexican War (1846-1848). In the Civil War of 1861-1865, hundreds of thousands of African Americans, both free and slaves, served in the army and navy on both the Confederate and Union sides. Blacks that served on the Confederate side are said to have served for different reasons. Some say that their ancestors were forced into service. Some believe their ancestors enlisted to escape and hide from slavery, and enlistment on the Confederate side was the most convenient option for them at the time. And some believe that their black ancestors served the Confederacy to gain favor of the whites so they and their families could possibly live a less tumultuous life. In any case, you may find that your black ancestor served the Union or the Confederacy. But you shouldn’t assume that service in the Confederacy was because they were a proponent of slavery. Some were offered their freedom if they served and survived. From the 1870s to early 1900s, African American units also served in the Indian Wars (1780s-1890s). There were six regiments of African American soldiers authorized to be formed by Congress. They came to be known as “Buffalo Soldiers” by the Native Americans because their curly hair resembled the hair of the buffalo. The six regiments included the 9th and 10th cavalries and the 38th/39th/40th/41st infantry regiments. The 24th infantry regiment of 1869 was formerly the 38th and 41st regiments, and the 25th infantry regiment of 1869 was formerly the 39th and 40th regiments.
Following are some resources for finding African American military records:
African Americans Military Records (https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/African_American_Military_Records) – A free online database of African Americans that served in United States military units since the Revolutionary War
War of 1812 Discharge Certificates (https://www.archives.gov/research/military/war-of-1812/1812-discharge-certificates/soldiers-by-name.html) – A list of soldiers by name in the National Archives, along with the year of discharge, regiment, and company.
African Americans in the U.S. Army (http://www.history.army.mil/html/topics/afam/index.html) – A reference site of information on African Americans serving in the U.S. Army, including artwork and photography
National Park Service Soldiers and Sailors Database (https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm) – An online database of the Civil War and Sailors System (CWSS) containing information about the men who served in the Union and Confederate armies
U.S., Colored Troops Military Service Records, 1863-1865 (http://search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=1107) – Ancestry.com’s online database of military service records for United States colored troops that that volunteered with the Union in the Civil War
United States Civil War Service Records of Union Colored Troops, 1863-1865 (https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1932431) – FamilySearch’s free online database of jacket-envelopes for each soldier including their name, rank, and unit in which they served
The American Civil War (https://www.mycivilwar.com/search/cw_coloredtroops.html) – Online database search of compiled military records of several colored troops that served in the Civil War
The Center for Civil War Research U.S. Colored Troops Burials (http://www.civilwarcenter.olemiss.edu/cemeteries_USCT.html) – Lists locations of African American cemeteries that are home to deceased African American Union soldiers
A print publication called The U.S. Colored Troops at Andersonville Prison by Bob O’Connor (Infinity Publishing, 2009) (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0741457679/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=hanaooks0d-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=0741457679&linkId=8eecf338ec88644d70fb1b1da868da05) – A narrative of the colored soldiers that were incarcerated at the Andersonville Prison in Georgia
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