The 54th Massachusetts, the most famous African-American regiment of the Civil War, departs for combat.
Five days earlier, the government had established the Bureau of Colored Troops. Most blacks who joined the military were freed or escaped slaves. However, 90% of the Colored Troops officers were white. That day in 1863, the 54th had over 1000 black soldiers and 37 white officers, in spite of the Confederate’s threat that every captured black Union soldier would be sold into slavery and every white officer would be executed.
|Col. Robert Shaw|
Colonel Robert Shaw, who was only 25 and had dropped out of Harvard to join the military, led the 54th and chose white officers with abolitionist views. Shaw was killed in the battle at Fort Wagner, SC, which was depicted in the movie “Glory”.
This battle was also where we find the story of William Harvey Carney, a member of the 54th and the first black American who earned the Medal of Honor (see my blog posting of May 23).