Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Press Release

Make Way for Liberty Details Service of Wisconsin African Americans in the Civil War


By - Nov 19th, 2020 10:51 am

The contributions of Wisconsin’s African Americans during the U.S. Civil War are fully documented the new Wisconsin Historical Society Press history released this week, Make Way for Liberty: Wisconsin African Americans in the Civil War (ISBN: 9780870209468, Paperback: $24.95). Author Jeff Kannel shines a long-overdue light on African Americans from the Midwest — who served as soldiers and regimental employees — as well as the roles they played in Wisconsin and in their communities after the war.

Hundreds of African Americans represented Wisconsin in the U.S. Civil War, and many of them lived in the state either before or after the conflict. Until now, their stories were largely untold in histories of the state, outside of a sentence or two about their small numbers or the mistaken belief that they were all from slaveholding states and served as substitutes for Wisconsin draftees. Relative to the total number of Badgers who served in the Civil War, African Americans soldiers were few, but they constituted a significant number in at least five regiments of the United States Colored Infantry and several other companies.

Kannel’s deep research into their service and lives shows that the contributions Midwestern African Americans made to Civil War — and Wisconsin — history is far greater than the mere numbers recorded by previous historians. Make Way for Liberty documents their service and their historical legacy.

In November the author joined curators from the Wisconsin Veterans Museum to share the stories of Wisconsin African Americans in the Civil War. Their intriguing and informative conversation is available for posting and sharing from the Wisconsin Veterans Museum here: https://youtu.be/Pzu1O8stHvY .


Jeff Kannel has been a volunteer and tour guide at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha, Wisconsin, since 2012 and speaks around the state about the role of Wisconsin African American soldiers and employees during the Civil War.

The Wisconsin Historical Society Press has been sharing Wisconsin history and culture since 1855, in service to the mission of the Wisconsin Historical Society.

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