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The first African-American regiment to serve in the US military earned their ‘glory’

The first African-American regiment to serve within the US army earned their ‘glory’

In 1989, Denzel Washington gained his first Academy Award for his portrayal of Private Silas Tripp, a runaway slave-turned-freedom fighter, in Glory. Although Private Tripp was not an actual individual, the film took its inspiration from a real-life volunteer unit within the Civil War — the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

The first African American regiment to serve within the United States army, the 54th Massachusetts was led by a 25-year-old abolitionist. The males have been a pivotal a part of the frontal assault of the Second Battle of Fort Wagner, one of many Civil War’s most memorable battles. Made up of a whole bunch of volunteers, the 54th Massachusetts regiment achieved unbelievable issuessimply meriting their nickname, the “Glory” regiment.

Established in February 1863, only one month after the Emancipation Proclamation formally approved the recruitment of African American troopers, the 54th Massachusetts regiment spent the subsequent three months recruiting and coaching their troopers earlier than occurring to develop into one of the iconic models ever to serve within the U.S. army.

The 54th was comprised of 1,100 troopers, nearly all of whom have been recruited by native abolitionists — white and black alike. The likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Frederick Douglass boosted morale, serving to recruit black Americans into army service for the primary time. Douglass even contributed two of his personal sons to the trigger, each of whom enlisted within the 54th.

The Northern states knew that sturdy African American enlistment may assist flip the course of the conflict, as each a logo and as further manpower for the bloody battle. President Lincoln’s Secretary of War personally charged John Andrew, governor of Massachusetts, with staffing the officer corps of the 54th regiment. Andrew chosen a bright-eyed, 25-year-old man, the son of abolitionists, to steer the 54th. His identify was Robert Gould Shaw. Although Shaw was solely a captain on the time, he was rapidly promoted to colonel, and his second-in-command, Norwood Penrose “Pen” Hallowell was promoted from captain to lieutenant colonel–only a few days after his twenty fourth birthday.

At first, the all-white officers have been controversial. Both white and black residents have been dismayed {that a} black regiment must be led by white males. But the recruiting efforts of males like Douglass quickly turned the tide, and volunteers started displaying up in bigger and bigger numbers.

The first African-American regiment to serve in the US military earned their ‘glory’

Frederick Douglass.

Morale was sturdy throughout enlistment, and the 54th acquired an inflow of hopeful recruits — a lot in order that the unit applied a “rigid and thorough” medical examination, with the purpose of enlisting solely essentially the most bodily and mentally match into its ranks. The firm skilled at Camp Meigs simply outdoors of Boston, for a interval that lasted solely a number of weeks.

On May twenty eighth, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts regiment marched out of Boston on its strategy to Beaufort, South Carolina. They did so regardless of a December 1862 proclamation by President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, which said that any captured African American soldier or white officer in command of an African American firm could be put to loss of life.

As portrayed in Glory, the 54th Massachusetts’s first motion was the looting and burning of a small city in Georgia. The motion got here on the orders of Colonel James Montgomery, a rabid abolitionist and controversial officer within the Northern Army who typically applied excessive ways when coping with pro-slavery populations.

Montgomery had been charged with elevating an African American regiment across the similar time as Colonel Shaw. His 2nd South Carolina unit rampaged by way of the South with their most well-known battle, the Raid at Combahee Ferry, coming simply earlier than they linked up with the 54th Regiment Massachusetts. With the assistance of Harriet Tubman’s underground railroad, Montgomery and his males freed almost 800 slaves at Combahee Ferry.

But Colonel Shaw wasn’t impressed with Montgomery’s ways. He wrote a sternly-worded letter to the army higher-ups, complaining of Montgomery’s rampant destruction of Confederate cities and wanton cruelty in the direction of their civilians. As a outcome, the 54th was shipped off to battle in a skirmish on James Island, South Carolina, by which they repelled a Confederate assault.

It was then that the 54th entered into its most well-known battle: the raid on Fort Wagner, simply outdoors of Charleston, South Carolina.


Charleston was thought-about a prize by many within the North, having been the birthplace of the Confederate riot. Charleston’s Fort Sumter was the place the Confederacy fired its first photographs, overtaking a Union garrison and precipitating the Civil War.

Colonel Shaw was tasked with main the 54th Regiment on a harmful frontal assault of Fort Wagner, with the purpose of retaining the 6,000 males garrisoned inside occupied lengthy sufficient for a rear-guard assault to penetrate the fort’s partitions. It was a daring proposition, and the 54th was a mere 48 hours faraway from their battle at James Island. Yet on July 18, 1863, the lads of the primary African American regiment bravely charged the battlefield and made historical past within the course of.

The raid on Fort Wagner was finally a failure and led to the lack of many lives. No unit was extra decimated than the 54th Massachusetts. 270 of its 600 males who charged the fort have been killed, wounded, or captured. Colonel Shaw was among the many lifeless, having been shot thrice by way of the chest simply outdoors the fort’s parapet.

Despite the heavy losses, the 54th Massachusetts regiment was recommended for its valor. Tales of the unit’s bravery unfold far and vast, prompting many African Americans to enlist within the Union military. President Lincoln finally cited the mobilization of African American troops as a key ingredient within the North’s victory over the South.

Many many years later, in 1900, Sergeant William Harvey Carney, then 60 years outdated, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery on the Battle of Fort Wagner. Carney had noticed the flag bearer fall throughout battle, and rapidly rushed over to boost the American flag. Carney then led troops to the parapet, waving the flag excessive to spice up morale regardless of receiving a number of gunshot and shrapnel wounds within the course of. Upon the Union’s name to retreat, Carney by some means escaped with the flag intact, and crawled again to his encampment. As he handed the flag off to fellow troopers, he famously informed them, “Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground.”

The first African-American regiment to serve in the US military earned their ‘glory’

The 4th United States Colored Infantry, mustered in Baltimore, Maryland

Although quite a few African American troopers acquired the Medal of Honor previous to Carney, his actions on the Battle of Fort Wagner preceded theirs. As such, he’s thought-about the primary African American to be granted the army’s highest honor.

Despite the bravery of the numerous males amongst their ranks, the 54th Regiment had nonetheless typically been handled as second-class troopers. Upon enlisting, the lads who joined the 54th Massachusetts regiment have been promised the identical wages as white males who enlisted: a month, with meals and clothes included. But as quickly because the regiment arrived in South Carolina, they found that they might solely be paid — and three of these hard-earned {dollars} could be taken by the Department of the South to pay for his or her clothes. Rather than settle for this, the lads of the 54th refused all pay. It wouldn’t be till late September 1864 that equal pay for the regiment was issued. Most of the lads had served 18 months at this level.

After the Battle at Fort Wagner, the 54th Massachusetts continued to battle in a number of extra battles and skirmishes, with and with out pay, proper up till the tip of the conflict. The regiment gained worldwide fame after the conflict, and was immortalized by poets and artists each in America and Europe. A memorial to Colonel Shaw and the 54th was erected on the Boston Common as a part of its Black Heritage Trail. The bust serves because the closing shot of Glory, over which the ultimate credit roll.

On Nov. 21, 2008, the 54th Massachusetts regiment was reactivated as a part of the Massachusetts National Guard. Today, the unit conducts army honors at funerals and state capabilities.

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