PrintTwo to Three Forty-Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • explain why it was important to African Americans to participate in the Civil War even though their help was not wanted.
  • analyze whether actions of the U. S. Colored Troops, and their families, were examples of philanthropy.
  • interpret an original source document to determine author's purpose.
  • "Fighting Rebels with Only One Hand" Student Handout (see Handout One).
Teacher Preparation 
Many students have already learned that the Civil War was fought to emancipate African Americans held in slavery. However, few know a lot about the actual role that African Americans played in the War Between the States. They have read very little about the sacrifices that were made by a courageous group called the U. S. Colored Troops. These troops of soldiers fought a war that benefited other African Americans. They sought a way to show patriotism. It was a significant turn in how African Americans viewed their actions in the tradition of philanthropy.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Split the class into two groups. Have one group imagine that they were Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, at the beginning of the Civil War. Tell the other group to imagine that they were Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, at the beginning of the Civil War. Ask each group to decide on what their policy would be about using African American help in the war. After a short time, ask students to share their policies. Explain that such a dilemma was exactly what both Presidents had to decide early in their presidencies.

  2. Ask students if the only soldiers who fought in the Civil War on both sides were white. Explain that there were African American troops in the war as well. Ask students from where these soldiers came. Were they all from the North? Were they all freemen?

  3. Explain that the United States Colored Troops (Union Army) were made up of Northerners and Southerners, freemen and escaped slaves. Up to 200,000 African American enlisted men served. Approximately 94,000 were ex-slaves from states that had seceded from the Union. Over 44,000 were ex-slaves or freemen from the Border States. The rest were recruited from northern states and the Colorado Territory, many of whom were ex-slaves who went north on the Underground Railroad.

  4. Distribute "Fighting Rebels with Only One Hand" (see Handout One). This is an excerpted article written by Frederick Douglass early in the Civil War. In it, he is strongly urging the use of African American men in the war. Read the article together as a class and discuss the questions. Answers for questions:

  5. The Union Army was having difficulty getting sufficient men to serve in the army. Douglass was urging that African Americans be used in the Union Army to provide manual labor or to relieve the shortage of soldiers. Douglass cited past wars in which African Americans were commended for their service in wartime and thus had a history of brave service. He also felt that African Americans had the most to gain by this war and would fight hard for their cause. He also said that it didn't make sense to reduce the number of men eligible to fight for the cause just because of the color of their skin. Even the Confederate Army was smart in using African Americans in both fighting and non-battle-related tasks.


  6. Since it was apparent at the beginning of the war that President Lincoln had no intention of using African Americans in the fighting, why did African Americans insist on trying to join the Army? Once the Confederates declared that captured African Americans were to be treated as "robbers and criminals," wasn't there a greater risk to African Americans captured as prisoners than there was to regular soldiers? What does the fact that they still insisted on joining the army say about them? Could the participation of African Americans in the Civil War be considered examples of philanthropy (voluntary action for the common good)? Why or why not?

  7. Although soldiers of African descent were supposed to receive $10 a month, many of them struggled for equal pay. Some refused any pay at all unless it was equal pay. This continued until June 15, 1864 when Congress granted equal pay for all Black soldiers. What serious difficulties did this cause back home for the families of these soldiers?


Have students write a one paragraph persuasive essay on whether the participation of the U.S. Colored Troops in the Civil War can be considered an act of philanthropy. It should include the student's own definition of "philanthropy," a clear statement by the student of his/her point of view, and two specific examples of philanthropy if the idea of philanthropy is supported, or two arguments against if the student does not support the idea. Scoring Rubric: 4- All four elements are present and support each other.3- Three elements are present.2- Two elements are present.1- One element is present.0- No attempt

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.6 Explain why acting philanthropically is good for the community, state, nation, or world.
    2. Standard DP 04. Operational Characteristics of Nonprofit Organizations
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe how citizens organize in response to a need.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark E.1 Give examples of philanthropic traditions of diverse cultures.
    2. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark E.2 Describe how charitable giving may have an economic dimension.
    3. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark E.4 Analyze information to differentiate fact from opinion based on the investigation of issues related to the common good.