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Though there had been voices clamoring for the rights of African Americans to represent the United States in the Army since the beginning of the Civil War, the door was never really open until Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Soon, the United States Army began to organize African Americans into regimental units known as the United States Colored Troops (USCT).

Even before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, the first regiment to become a USCT regiment was officially brought into the Union army on September 27, 1862. The regiment was immediately assigned combat duties, and it captured Donaldsonville, Louisiana on October 27, 1862. Two more African descent regiments from Kansas and South Carolina would demonstrate their prowess in combat before the year ended. After the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, the War Department publicly authorized the recruiting of African Americans.

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