Black soldiers who were in the Union Army were put into separate regiments called Corps d’ Afrique, or African Descent. However, the world “colored” soon replaced the term.
Most of the blacks who joined the army were runaways from the South or slaves from border states who were volunteering their services in hopes of gaining their freedom.
Slaves had to have permission from their owners to join the army, and they were paid $100 dollars in compensation. Although freedmen were most likely to be paid more than slaves, most officers took the word of a black soldier as to whether or not they were free.
Black troops and other regiments were issued the same uniforms, weapons, and rations as whites. Although black troops thought that this was an indication that they were being accepted and treated equal as their white counterparts, in reality, it just cost less to keep all equipment standard, including the uniforms.
Black soldiers were not paid the same amount of pay as white soldiers throughout most of the war. In July 1862, Congress set the pay for black laborers working for the army equal to that of white laborers, intending to protect runaway slaves from exploitation. When the army enlisted blacks, however, antiwar politicians forced the army to pay them at the lower laborer rate and blocked efforts to adjust for the difference.
Black regiments usually held the job of guarding supply lines, prison guards, and hunted Confederate guerillas. The jobs were important to keep the fighting armies in the field.
Black soldiers often exceeded the expectations of many of their white commanders. It took a significant amount of courage for blacks, free or enslaved, to join the military only for Confederate soldiers to treat black soldiers and their white officers with brutal hatred. The chances of a black soldier or officer being taken as a prisoner were low, as most were just killed outright.