As soon as the Civil War began, black men volunteered to serve in the United States Army. They were denied. In the spring of 1863, the Federal government finally began enlisting Freedmen. Within months, thousands in Helena had enlisted.
"Willing and Desirous to Fight"
The black men who joined the Union army, like
all men in all wars, enlisted for different reasons.
Robert Houston remembered, "I went into the
Union service very willingly... my actions feeling
and sympathies have all the time been for the
success and maintenance of the Union cause and
all the time willing and desirous to fight or do
anything else in my power on that behalf."
Freedom for all African Americans
Some men enlisted because army pay enabled
them to provide for their families. Some men were
coerced. Many black men who enlisted felt every
black man should enlist, and pressured those who
did not. The army also made forays into the
county to collect recruits. But most men enlisted
because they wanted to fight for their continued
freedom and the freedom of all African Americans.
John Harris, 2nd Arkansas A.D.
The story of John Harris is probably
the Yankees came through,
I went to Helena, Arkansas, where I
enlisted on May 21, 1863."
Harris enlisted in Co. B, 2nd Arkansas
Infantry of African Descent. He was
wounded in the Battle of Helena in July
Arkansas contributed 5,526 black men to the Union effort between 1863 and 1865.
Eighty-five percent were from the Delta region.
In the spring of 1863, thousands of men like the teamsters above left civilian jobs to enlist in the U.S. army.