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Men of Color to Arms!

Black Soldiers, Indian Wars, and the Quest for Equality

Elizabeth D. Leonard (Author, Colby College)

Overview | Inside the Book

The story of the black soldiers who helped save the Union, conquer the West, and build the nation.

In 1863, at the height of the Civil War, Frederick Douglass promised African Americans that serving in the military offered a sure path to freedom. Once a black man became a soldier, Douglass declared, “there is no power on earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship in the United States.” More than 180,000 black men heeded his call to defend the Union—only to find the path to equality would not be so straightforward.

In this sharply drawn history, Professor Elizabeth D. Leonard reveals the aspirations and achievements as well as the setbacks and disappointments of African American soldiers. Drawing on eye-opening firsthand accounts, she restores black soldiers to their place in the arc of American history, from the Civil War and its promise of freedom until the dawn of the 20th century and the full retrenchment of Jim Crow.

Along the way, Leonard offers a nuanced account of black soldiers’ involvement in the Indian Wars, their attempts to desegregate West Point and gain proper recognition for their service, and their experience of Reconstruction nationally, as blacks worked to secure their place in an ever-changing nation. With abundant primary research, enlivened by memorable characters and vivid descriptions of army life, Men of Color to Arms! is an illuminating portrait of a group of men whose contributions to American history need to be further recognized.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • August 2010
  • ISBN 978-0-393-06039-3
  • 6.5 × 9.5 in / 315 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“Once again Elizabeth Leonard demonstrates the versatility and range of her skills as a historian and writer. This penetrating account of the black regular regiments in the U.S. Army after the Civil War joins her earlier studies of women during the Civil War and the prosecutors of Lincoln's assassins on a select shelf of important books. Of special note is her discussion of the ironies involved in the key role played by black soldiers in the wars that extinguished the title of other nonwhite Americans to millions of acres that their ancestors had possessed for thousands of years.” — James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry for Freedom

“Historians have written important books on the role of blacks at West Point and in the late 19th century military, but no one has written as succinct and insightful an overview as Elizabeth Leonard. Her thorough research, excellent organization, and lucid prose make this publication worthy of a wide audience.” — John F. Marszalek, author of Assault at West Point

“Until the film Glory in 1989, few Americans knew that black soldiers fought for the Union during the Civil War. Elizabeth D. Leonard's welcome new book examines African Americans in military service during the postwar decades, assessing their role in the Indian wars and westward expansion, as well as their often frustrating search for equality within the army and as citizens. Richly detailed and beautifully written, Men of Color to Arms! illuminates an important but neglected aspect of late-19th-century United States history.” — Gary W. Gallagher, author of Causes Won, Lost, and Forgotten: How Hollywood and Popular Art Shape What We Know about the Civil War

“Ms. Leonard did a masterful job of extracting from the best primary and secondary sources available on frontier military history. The work is an excellent starting place for those not familiar with the service of blacks in the frontier army.” — Mary L. Williams, Historian, National Park Service

Also by Elizabeth D. Leonard All

  1. Book CoverAll the Daring of the Soldier: Women of the Civil War Armies


  2. Book CoverLincoln's Avengers: Justice, Revenge, and Reunion after the Civil War


  3. Book CoverYankee Women: Gender Battles in the Civil War


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