The north lawn of DuSable Museum of African-American History will be transformed into a Civil War-era battlefield on June 23, complete with cannon fire and Union and Confederate soldiers.
But this Civil War re-enactment aims to show the bravery of freed slaves who fought in the war. In 1862, Congress passed a law allowing black men to enlist in the Union army, a move that historians believe helped win the war for the North.
A year later, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a document that freed blacks, allowing them to join Union army. But their contributions during the war are often forgotten.
As part of the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the museum will host the Civil War re-enactment with actors portraying the soldiers.
“You really shouldn’t do a Civil War reenactment without the inclusion of colored troops that had so much to do with victory,” said Pemon Rami, the museum’s director of educational services and public programs.
Civil War reenactments have been popular for many years but the black soldiers are rarely included. The DuSable event is aiming to fill that gap, Rami said.
The goal also is to educate people, both black and white, about American history, which also chronicles the story of black people in this country. Rami noted that more than 200,000 blacks fought for the Union — some even fought on the side of the Confederacy but for different reasons.
For DuSable’s event, the battlefield scrimmages will include the 1st Brigade Illinois Volunteers, 5th U.S. Colored Troop Company G, and 29th U.S. Colored Troop Company B. A field hospital reenactment will show how surgeons operated while on the battlefield. Historical speeches are also planned, performed by actors playing key Civil War figures, including Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. A speech by Mary Bowser, a Union Army spy, will also be given. Bowser was a slave who worked in the Confederate White House and relayed information back to the North.
“They basically ignored a black person in the room, assuming you’re too ignorant to understand, so she was able to get incredible intell,” Rami said of Bowser.
Rami added the event puts the Civil War in context, where movies like last year’s Lincoln “miss the mark.”
According to Rami, the film inferred that blacks did not participate in their own freedom but instead had it handed to them. People like Frederick Douglass and Bowser had significant roles in the Civil War and securing blacks their freedom, Rami insists.
“It was important to bring these images of other people into play, and hear their voices and what they felt about the time,” he said.