The 54th Massachusetts

The 54th Massachusetts

54th Massachusetts

The 54th Massachusetts is one of the most famous units in the Federal army during the Civil War. It was one of the first volunteer African-American regiments that was raised by the North in the wake of the Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. There is a good chance that you may have seen the movie Glory with Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman and many others. That was their story. The painting above was done by Keith Rocco and portrays the units disastrous assault on the Confederate Fort Wagner in South Carolina.

There was no shortage of black men that  volunteered for the regiment, all wanting to do their part for the cause of freedom. Of course it was thought by many in the Army and the civilian leadership that these men were in capable of leadership on their own and many questioned their ability to actually fight.

So the men were given white officers to lead them and were mostly used for grunt work and manual labor. Even when the finally were deployed to the fighting they found that discrimination followed them into the fight. It took the sheer willpower of their commander, Col. Robert Gould Shaw to convince his superiors that his men could fight and they were given the chance.

In July 18th, 1863 the were chosen to lead the attack on Ft. Wagner a tough and as of yet unconquered part of the Confederacy. They were tired, they were hungry and they were tired, but they crossed the sandy beaches in front of the fort under fire and made their way to the walls. But they failed, the attack was stopped and the 54th suffered major casualties including Shaw. They stayed in the shadow of the wall waiting for reinforcements that would never come. The most important thing was they fought hard and brave and did not retreat. They set the standard for African-American troops and proved that given the chance they would fight.