Facts About The 54th Massachusetts, The Forgotten Black Soldiers Who Rose From Doing Menial Jobs To Civil War Heroes

Photo credit: Friends of the Public Garden


Massachusetts Governor John Andrew established the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in response to Abraham Lincoln’s call for Black regiments to be raised following the Emancipation Proclamation.

In 1863, the Governor appointed Robert Gould Shaw, the son of a wealthy abolitionist, to command this regiment. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry is significant in historical reflections because it provided an opportunity for Black soldiers to demonstrate their capability.

According to the Bill of Rights Institute, it was another victory for the black race in its fight against racial inequality and demand for diversity for abolitionists Frederick Douglass. Douglass played an important role in recruiting volunteers for the regiment, which included his two sons.

Many of the Black soldiers came from New York, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Boston, and other northern cities. Because, despite African-American soldiers fighting in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, racial discrimination in the North prevented them from fighting in America’s Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was viewed as a chance for African-American soldiers to prove their worth. When they enlisted, however, instead of serving on the battlefield, many were assigned to menial tasks. In that regard, they were paid as laborers rather than soldiers.

Some were also assigned to ancillary duties such as guarding bridges and supply trains, as well as rescuing wounded soldiers from the battlefield. The black regiment’s casualty rate increased due to illness and strenuous labor work.

According to historians, the black soldiers did raise concerns about blatant racism and disparities in remuneration during their enlistment. White soldiers received $13 per month, while African Americans received $10. They were informed that the $3 had been set aside to pay for their clothing. This only changed after Congress passed a bill requiring everyone to be paid equally regardless of race.

Some members of the 54th regiment fought in battle. They performed some heroic feats that earned them respect from their peers. They were successful in launching a military expedition against Confederate Battery Wagner on Morris Island, South Carolina.

They were hit by enemy fire within 200 yards of the fort, resulting in some casualties. They held the fort for an hour before being forced to retreat. Lewis Douglass, Douglass’s son, was one of the notable casualties on that fateful day. He was severely wounded in battle, but he survived.

Out of the 600 volunteers in the 54th Massachusetts, 272 died, were wounded, or were captured, including Colonel Shaw, whose remains have never been found. Out of 1,700 men, the Confederates lost 174.

The 54th Massachusetts also made a name for itself in the Battle of Olustee, Florida, on February 20, 1864, among other battles.


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