A Look at the Massachusetts 54th

All African American Unit

Who were the Massachusetts 54th?

The Massachusetts 54th was a small group of volunteer African American soldiers.

All kinds of African Americans joined to fight for their freedom, from businessmen to farmhands with all degrees of education.


The picture to the right shows the volunteers marching with their commander.

Training of the Massachusetts 54th

During their training, they had to learn how to march, hold a rifle, how to engage in hand to hand combat, how to stand guard, and how to follow orders. They had to train with no real shoes, no beds, cramped tents, and discrimination. Yet after the training was done they all seemed to act as if it never happened and continued being merry.

Facing Discrimination

The soldiers had to face being called racial slurs, getting less supplies, getting less pay than promised, and having the chance of being re enslaved by the South.

Their Arrival in South Carolina

As they traveled through South Carolina, many remembered the heat from their enslavement there. As they traveled, Sargent Rawlins received a promotion to Sargent Major, which was the highest rank an African American could get at this time. A party was thrown for them which included a large group of African American children singing, proving that they could learn.

Their 1st Assignment in South Carolina

On their first assignment, they were told to get supplies from a nearby town. After getting to the town, they were told to steal anything valuable. After they had stolen as much as they could carry, they were ordered to burn down the town, invoking further spite against the African Americans in the south.

No Fighting, Just Manual Labor for the Massachusetts 54th

To their dismay, they saw no real fighting at first in South Carolina, just more labor. They were forced to cut down trees for wood and many other menial task for their superiors.

Their 1st Battle Assignment on James Island

To their delight, they finally saw combat on James Island. In the first attack the Southern troops sent cavalry to test their strength. The 54th hit many of them before they could run back, though. The Confederate line then started their march toward them. The 54th take out many of them in the first barrage. The confederate troops then charged, meeting the 54th's counter charge, both sides held until the 54th finally broke their line, causing the confederate troops to retreat.


The picture below shows the clash of troops in their first battle.

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The Massachusetts 54th Volunteers for the Attack on Fort Wagner

The Union badly wanted to take a confederate for called Fort Wagner. They had been lowering it's defenses and morale by bombarding it with ships for days. They finally decided to attack. Their plan was to send wave after wave of regiments at the for, the front one would take the fire, allowing the ones behind it to move up further as they reloaded. This meant, of course, that this would be almost suicide for the first set of troops to attack. No one wanted to to volunteer for the attack. No one but the Massachusetts 54th.


The picture below shows the Massachusetts 54 charging the fort.

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The Attack on Fort Wagner

They started marching toward the fort near dusk. As they got closer they started marching faster until they all broke into a run. Many of them died on the way there, but they finally made it to some sand dunes. As they attacked the next morning, the enemy was waiting. They made it into the fort only to walk into an ambush.


The picture Below shows the the fighting for the fort.

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The Outcome

After the battle, more than 50% of the Massachusetts 54 were dead. The fort was taken, though and this earned the respect of African American troops all over. After this Lincoln decided to start recruiting more African American soldiers, marking the changing point in the war.