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.

September's Archived Features:

Friday September 1, 2023
Saturday September 2, 2023
Sunday September 3, 2023
Monday September 4, 2023
Tuesday September 5, 2023
Wednesday September 6, 2023
Thursday September 7, 2023
Friday September 8, 2023
Saturday September 9, 2023
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Monday September 11, 2023
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Monday September 18, 2023
Tuesday September 19, 2023
Wednesday September 20, 2023
Thursday September 21, 2023
Friday September 22, 2023
Saturday September 23, 2023
Sunday September 24, 2023
Monday September 25, 2023
Tuesday September 26, 2023
Wednesday September 27, 2023
Thursday September 28, 2023



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 © 2001-2019. 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.