War of 1812
1775 - 1782
1846 - 1848
World War II
1939 - 1945
1955 - 1975
War in Afghanistan
2001 - 2014
1861 - 1865
World War I
1914 - 1918
1950 - 1953
1990 - 1991
2003 - 2011
The military history of African Americans spans from the arrival of the first enslaved Africans during the colonial history of the United States to the present day. In every war fought by or within the United States, African Americans participated, including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican–American War, the Civil War, the Spanish–American War, the World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as other minor conflicts.
Born a Georgia slave on October 14, 1800, to African and European parents, Jordan Noble apparently had arrived in New Orleans sometime in 1812. The teenage Noble joined the US Army in 1813 as a free drummer in the Seventh US Regiment, and during the fierce night fighting of December 23, 1814, he kept a steady beat as Andrew Jackson’s troops surprised a British vanguard, delaying the enemy’s assault south of the city. By late December two battalions of “Free Men of Color” as well as other free black militiamen and slave volunteers had swollen Jackson’s defenses at nearby Chalmette by more than 900 men.
A number of African Americans in the Army during the Mexican–American War were servants of the officers who received government compensation for the services of their servants or slaves. Also, soldiers from the Louisiana Battalion of Free Men of Color participated in this war. African Americans also served on a number of naval vessels during the Mexican–American War, including the USS Treasure, and the USS Columbus.
After the Indian Wars ended in the 1890s, the regiments continued to serve and participated in the Spanish–American War(including the Battle of San Juan Hill), where five more Medals of Honor were earned. They took part in the 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico and in the Philippine–American War.
The history of African Americans in the U.S. Civil War is marked by 186,097 (7,122 officers, 178,975 enlisted) African American men, comprising 163 units, who served in the Union Army during the Civil War, and many more African Americans served in the Union Navy. Both free African Americans and runaway slaves joined the fight.
The U.S. armed forces remained segregated through World War I. Still, many African Americans eagerly volunteered to join the Allied cause following America's entry into the war. By the time of the armistice with Germany on November 11, 1918, over 350,000 African Americans had served with the American Expeditionary Force on the Western Front.
Despite a high enlistment rate in the U.S. Army, African Americans were not treated equally. At parades, church services, in transportation and canteens the races were kept separate. The Women's Army Corps (WAC) changed its enlistment policies in January 1941, allowing for African American women to join the ranks of Army nurses to strengthen the war effort. Much like with male soldiers, Black women were given separate training, inferior living quarters, and rations. Black nurses were integrated into everyday life with their white colleagues and often felt the pain of discrimination and slander from the wounded soldiers they cared for and the leadership assigned to them.
Jesse L. Brown became the U.S. Navy's first black aviator in October 1948. He died when his plane was shot down during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. He was unable to parachute from his crippled F4U Corsair and crash-landed successfully. His injuries and damage to his aircraft prevented him from leaving the plane. A white squadron mate, Thomas Hudner, crash-landed his F4U Corsair near Brown and attempted to extricate Brown but could not and Brown died of his injuries. Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor for his efforts. The U.S. Navy honored Jesse Brown by naming a frigate after him—the USS Jesse L. Brown (FF-1089).
The Vietnam War saw many great accomplishments by many African Americans, including twenty who received the Medal of Honor for their actions. African Americans during the conflict suffered disproportionately higher casualty rates during the early years, but after reforms were implemented in 1967–68 the casualty rate dropped to slightly higher than their percentage of the total population. In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the Medal of Honor to U.S. Army Specialist Five Lawrence Joel, for a "very special kind of courage—the unarmed heroism of compassion and service to others." Joel was the first living African American to receive the Medal of Honor since the Mexican–American War.