Florida in the Civil War (1861-1865)

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African-Americans of Florida in the Civil War

African-Americans of Florida (1861-1865): Blacks, Slavery, and Civil War

Africans have been associated with Florida since the first Spanish exploration in 1513, with the first known enslaved Africans being brought to the colony in 1528. By the mid-1800s, parts of Florida had developed a system of plantation agriculture similar to the more populous slave states. This led to an increase in the number of slaves brought southward, primarily to work on the farms and plantations in the northern part of the state. In 1860, the African American population of Florida comprised nearly 45 percent of the state’s population. Less than 1,000 free blacks resided in the state, along with 61,745 enslaved persons. At the war's outbreak, a few slaves accompanied their owners into the military, serving as body servants and cooks. A small number of slaves served as musicians in units like the St. Augustine Blues. The great majority of Florida's slaves remained on the plantations and farms providing, however unwillingly, the food needed to supply rebel armies. Confederate officials also impressed slaves to build fortifications and work on other war related projects. By early 1862, Union forces had occupied most of the populous towns along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. These enclaves attracted hundreds of escaped slaves, and their numbers only increased as the war progressed. Many ships in the East Gulf Blockading Squadron enlisted escaped slaves into their crews, and more than 1,000 black Floridians joined Union army regiments. Even those slaves who remained in Confederate-held areas became more belligerent as the war progressed, as they sensed the Confederacy’s defeat and slavery’s demise. May 20, the day Union forces in Tallahassee announced the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865, is still celebrated by Florida's black citizens as Emancipation Day.

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