College of Arts and Sciences


Doctor of Philosophy in History (PhD)


Leah Tarwater


Social Sciences, Civil War, U.S. Navy, African-American, Military History, Navy, Men




“Becoming Men, Consequently” examines the lives and experiences of African American sailors, both those free and deemed “contraband,” who served in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War, providing a narrative look into the history of African American naval service from the French and Indian War through the Civil War and finishes at the end of World War II. Examining African American men serving in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War offers a novel analysis of their reasons for enlistment, experiences in the ranks, life after the navy, and their life after the navy. The investigation into the question of why African American men would specifically choose to serve in the U.S. Navy during the Civil War and what benefits the navy offered black sailors during the war will provide a look into their desire to enlist, while it was their hard work, discipline, and shared experiences at sea that helped black sailor to shift the common perception white sailors had and begin to change the perception of them from slaves, or an inferior race, allowing them to prove themselves not only capable of holding their own aboard the ship as sailors but as men. As African American men served and fought bravely at sea amidst growing controversies throughout the nation and aboard their ships, their struggle for freedom expanded beyond their own lives and paved the way for others to follow in their wake. By examining diaries, letters, logs, and articles available, I will attempt to determine if their service in the navy provided them with opportunities they would not have otherwise been afforded after the war. I desire to build upon the current historical research to provide a better understanding of their story so that the story of the black men who served in the United States Navy during the Civil War can continue to be remembered and better preserved for future generations so that it may continue to be an example to others.

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