By the late summer of 1864, a century and a half ago, more than 100,000 African American soldiers were serving in the U.S. Civil War, providing a much-needed boost to Abraham Lincoln’s struggling Union forces. These proud soldiers, many of whom were former slaves, “had been to the armory of God,” said one black sergeant, “and had received weapons of the heart, that made them daring and dangerous foes.”
The Union’s newest enlistees fought courageously, but neither God nor their new employer had equipped them with the armor to fight an even more daunting enemy than the Confederacy: Disease.
According to The Library of Congress, an astonishing 29,000 of those 100,000 black soldiers died from disease during the Civil War. Or, nine times the number that would perish fighting.
A white doctor observed, ‘[V]ery few surgeons will do precisely for blacks as they would for whites.’
The camp conditions confronting the average soldier were appalling. For black soldiers, it was even worse. Those who became ill “died at a rate two and a half times higher than their white counterparts,” according to the Library of Congress.