The Greenpoint Monitor Museum "Road Show"
PS 196 Ten Eyck School
January 26, 2007
Welcome from the Fourth Grade.
BLACK SOLDIERS IN THE CIVIL WAR
The 54th Massachusetts
- The 54th Massachusetts was organized in March, 1863 by Robert Gould Shaw. He was a twenty-six year old white officer. His family was an important Boston abolitionist family. Abolitionist means his family was against slavery. Shaw was appointed colonel of the
- 54th Massachusetts by Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew.
- The 54th Massachusetts was one of the first black units organized in the northern states. The regiment was composed mostly of free blacks from the north, especially Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Among its recruits were Lewis and Charles Douglass,
- who were sons of the famous ex-slave and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass.
Frederick Douglass believed that the black soldiers could help end the Civil War, save the Union and end slavery. He said "This is no time to fight only with your white hand, and allow your black hand to remain tied. Men fight with two hands." Most northern men and women of African descent believed they could end racial prejudice and prove to all that they
could contribute to the nation in times of crisis, in a time of war.
The 54th Massachusetts became famous on July 18, 1863, when it led an assault on the Confederate positions in the South at Battery Wagner. In this attack, the 54th was placed in the lead. Shaw, the young white Colonel, led the charge next to the flag. While the Confederates fired at the charging 54th Massachuetts, the black soldiers kept charging even though many of the regiment were being killed or wounded. There were too many Confederate soldiers. Although they were outnumbered, the black troops continued to courageously charge. Shaw, the regiment's young colonel, died shouting,
"Forward, Fifty-fourth!" (As shown in the drawing above.) Also see the new Monitor ships in the drawing. They are in the harbor below Colonel Shaw.
- Next to Colonel Shaw was Sgt. William H. Carney, a black soldier in Company C. He risked his life in an action for which he received the Medal of Honor. His citation reads in part: "When the color sergeant was shot down, this soldier grasped the flag, led the way to the parapet, and planted the colors thereon. When the troops fell back he brought off the flag, under a fierce fire in which he was twice severely wounded."
- That heroic charge and Colonel Shaw's death made the regiment a household name throughout the north. Everyone was talking about it. Respect for the black troops was won and more blacks joined the Union army all helping to save the Union and hoping to end slavery.
Shaw's father requested that his son's body lie with his fallen black troops and not be returned home. He believed "that a soldier's most approppriate burial place is on the field where he has fallen".
Today, more than 100 years after the Civil War, the 54th Massachusetts remains the most famous black regiment of the Civil War. This can be seen through the recent popular movie "Glory", which tells the story of the regiment before and during the attack on Battery Wagner.
Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, Col. of the 54th Massachusetts
Sgt. William H. Carney, 54th Massachusetts, Medal of Honor Winner
Click on the pictures below to make them larger.