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Formation of the U.S.C.T.

The Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in all states in rebellion at the time, and it also announced that free black men would be received into the U.S. Army and Navy. Recruitment for regiments of what became officially known as U.S. Colored Troops began almost immediately following the Proclamation. The Confederate government retaliated, proclaiming that any African-Americans in the service of the Union Army would be tried in Confederate civil courts as slave insurrectionists, a crime punishable by death.

Eventually, 166 regiments composed of more than 178,000 free African-Americans fought for the Union Army. They represented every branch of the military and every state in the Union. Over 80 percent of the U.S.C.T. forces were from Confederate states, and most were former slaves. By the end of the war, U.S.C.T. soldiers constituted nearly one-tenth of all Union troops. Eighteen African-American soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions during the Civil War.

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