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Glory: Shaw and the Black Soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th | by Tony Fischer Photography
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Glory: Shaw and the Black Soldiers of the Massachusetts 54th

To give your life so others may live in freedom is perhaps the most meaningful sacrifice of all.


About Robert Goudl Shaw and the brave soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts:


The regiment was authorized in March 1863 by the Governor of Massachusetts, John A. Andrew. Commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, it sprang to life after the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton decided white officers would be in charge of all "colored" units. Colonel Shaw was hand picked by Governor John Andrew. The soldiers were recruited by white abolitionists (including Shaw's parents).


The 54th Massachusetts primarily was composed of free men. A number of the recruits were from states other than Massachusetts, with several coming from Pennsylvania and New York. Many of the Pennsylvania recruits were obtained in Philadelphia through the efforts of Lt. Col. Norwood Hallowell's brother, Edward N. Hallowell. Two of the recruits were sons of famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass.


The 54th trained at Camp Meigs in Readville near Boston. While there they received considerable moral support from abolitionists in Massachusetts including Ralph Waldo Emerson. Material support included warm clothing items, battle flags and $500 contributed for the equipping and training of a regimental band.


By most accounts the 54th left Boston with very high morale. This was despite the fact that Jefferson Davis' proclamation of December 23, 1862 effectively put both African-American enlisted men and white officers under a death sentence. The proclamation was affirmed by the Confederate Congress in January 1863 and turned both enlisted soldiers and their white officers over to the states from which the enlisted soldiers had been slaves. As most Southern states had enacted draconian measures for "servile insurrection" after Nat Turner's Rebellion the likely sentence was a capital one.


The 54th left Boston to fight for the Union on May 28, 1863. It started off performing only manual labor. The regiment gained notoriety in a raid on the town of Darien, Georgia, after being ordered to loot and burn the town by Col. James Montgomery. The 54th's participation in this raid was minimal and reluctant. Colonel Shaw initially objected to what he called a "Satanic action".


The regiment's first action took place in a skirmish with Confederate troops on James Island, South Carolina, on July 16. The regiment stopped a Confederate assault, losing 42 men in the process.


The regiment gained recognition on July 18, 1863, when it spearheaded an assault on Fort Wagner near Charleston, South Carolina. At this battle, Colonel Shaw was killed, along with one-hundred and sixteen of his men. Another hundred and fifty-six were wounded or captured The total casualties of 272 would be the highest total for the 54th in a single engagement during the war. Although the Union was not able to take and hold the fort, the 54th was widely acclaimed for its valor, and the event helped encourage the further enlistment and mobilization of African-American troops, a key development that President Abraham Lincoln once noted as helping to secure the final victory. Decades later, Sergeant William Harvey Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor for grabbing the U.S. flag as the flag bearer fell, carrying the flag to the enemy ramparts and back, and saying "Boys, the old flag never touched the ground!" While other African-Americans had since been granted the award, Carney's is the earliest action for which the Medal of Honor was awarded to an African-American.


Ironically, during the week leading up to the 54th's heroic sacrifice near Charleston, simmering racial strife climaxed in the New York Draft Riots. African-Americans on the city's waterfront and Lower East Side were beaten, tortured, and lynched by white mobs angered over conscription for the Union war effort. These mobs directed their animosity toward blacks because they felt the Civil War was caused by them. However, the bravery of the 54th would help to assuage anger of this kind.


Under the command of Colonel E. N. Hallowell, the 54th fought a rear-guard action covering the Union retreat at the Battle of Olustee. As part of an all-black brigade under Col. Alfred S. Hartwell, they unsuccessfully attacked entrenched Confederate militia at the November 1864 Battle of Honey Hill. In mid-April 1865, they fought at the Battle of Boykin's Mill, a small affair in South Carolina that proved to be one of the last engagements of the war.


One of several reasons so much is known about the 54th Massachusetts are the letters of Corporal James Henry Gooding. Gooding's letters may be the most extensive recordings of enlisted men's experiences in a black unit during the Civil War as most black troops of this period were unlettered, former slaves. Corporal Gooding was wounded and captured at the Battle of Olustee on February 20, 1864, and died at Andersonville prison.


The regiment was disbanded after the Civil War. A famous composition by Charles Ives, "Col. Shaw and his Colored Regiment," the opening movement of Three Places in New England, is based both on the monument and the regiment.


On January 20th re-enactors of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment marched in President Barack Obama’s inauguration day parade. They were personally selected by President Obama for this honor.


The unit was reactivated on November 21, 2008 to serve as the Massachusetts National Guard ceremonial unit to render military honors at funerals and state functions. The new unit is now known as the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment.


The movie "Glory", with Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington and is based on this regiment.


This photo is the sculpted part of a beautiful monument, constructed from 1884–1897 and designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens on the Boston Common, is part of the Boston Black Heritage Trail.


sources: wiki (and various sources)

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Taken on February 14, 2009