CNN style Arts | Rarely-seen photos tell the story of America’s Black Civil War soldiers

A carte de visite of Lieutenant Peter Vogelsang, who served with the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

The emancipation of slaves is central to the story of the American Civil War. But as curator and photographic historian Deborah Willis discovered growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, the Black people who served in the conflict are often ignored by the history books.

As she would later learn, almost 180,000 Black soldiers fought for the North in the name of ending slavery. By the end of the war, a tenth of the Union Army was made up of free African American men.

“When Black soldiers were fighting for their emancipation, they were fighting for not only their own (freedom), but that of their families and other Black people,” Willis said in a video interview. “They felt the cause was necessary to fight.”  —read more