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Forging a New Identity: The Costs and Benefits of Diversity in Civil War Combat Units for Black Slaves and Freemen

  • Dora L. Costa
  • Matthew E. Kahn

By the end of the Civil War, 186,017 black men had fought for the Union Army and roughly three-quarters of these men were former slaves. Because most of the black soldiers who served were illiterate farm workers, the war exposed them to a much broader world. The war experience of these men depended upon their peers, their commanding officers, and where their regiment toured. These factors affected the later life outcomes of black slaves and freemen. This paper documents both the short run costs and long run benefits of participating in a diverse environment. In the short run the combat unit benefited from company homogeneity as this built social capital and minimized shirking, but in the long run men's human capital and aquisition of information was best served by fighting in heterogeneous companies.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11013.

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Date of creation: Dec 2004
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Costa, Dora L. & Kahn, Matthew E., 2006. "Forging a New Identity: The Costs and Benefits of Diversity in Civil War Combat Units for Black Slaves and Freemen," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 66(04), pages 936-962, December.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11013
Note: DAE
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