The Civil War, Day by Day

Col. Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts

First Black Regiment, 54th Massachusetts Leaves Boston

On May 28, 1863, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry - the first black Union regiment - headed for battle. As onlookers cheered, the men paraded through Boston, then boarded a steamer for the Charleston, South Carolina war zone. Thanks to this courageous, well-disciplined unit, even the most prejudiced of Northerners were forced to recognize the great potential of blacks in combat.

The regiment was formed by Massachusetts Governor John Andrew in January, 1863. To lead the new division, Andrew looked to anti-slavery circles of white society for an experienced military commander “of the highest tone and honor…superior to a vulgar contempt for color.” He finally chose Captain Robert Gould Shaw, who became admired and respected by his men.

The 54th volunteers were relegated to minor roles in the war until they brought the Union victory on James Island, near Charleston. Determined that his men make their mark in the war, Shaw insisted that his unit be included in the battle at Fort Wagner, a garrison on Charleston Harbor. Unfortunately, this confrontation resulted in Shaw’s death - and the loss of more than 40% of the regiment to death and injuries.

Despite its defeat at Fort Wagner, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry swelled the Union ranks when manpower was desperately needed - and increased the visibility and respectability of blacks in battle.

May's Archived Features:

Monday May 1, 2017
Tuesday May 2, 2017
Wednesday May 3, 2017
Thursday May 4, 2017
Friday May 5, 2017
Saturday May 6, 2017
Sunday May 7, 2017
Monday May 8, 2017
Tuesday May 9, 2017
Wednesday May 10, 2017
Thursday May 11, 2017
Friday May 12, 2017
Saturday May 13, 2017
Sunday May 14, 2017
Monday May 15, 2017
Tuesday May 16, 2017
Wednesday May 17, 2017
Thursday May 18, 2017
Friday May 19, 2017
Saturday May 20, 2017
Sunday May 21, 2017
Monday May 22, 2017
Tuesday May 23, 2017
Wednesday May 24, 2017
Thursday May 25, 2017
Friday May 26, 2017
Saturday May 27, 2017



All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2016. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.