African American men were prevented from enlisting in the Union Army prior to President Lincoln issuing a "Memorandum on Recruting Negroes" in which he adovated the recruitment of free blacks and slaves of "loyal owners with their consent." Lincoln more widely promoted the recruitment of African American soldiers in his Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863. Yet Lincoln was more anxious to utilize African American troops from the South who were runaway slaves than to capitalize on the strength of the North's free population of African American men. In New York State recrutiment of African American men was held up by politics as Democratic Governor Horatio Seymour was no friend of African Americans or the Union cause. Seymour stated in his first annual message to the legislature that: "we must restore the Union as it was before the outbreak of the war."
This political resistance in the state delayed the creation of New York’s African American regiments until late 1863 when the Union League Club, a group of influential New York socialites, pressed the Federal government into action. Many of the African Americans from Rockland County who volunteered served in the 26th, although others could not wait to join up and went to Massachusetts or Rhode Island to enlist.