Massachusetts 54th Exhibit

Who Were The Massachusetts 54th

The Union needed help, the South was winning and they couldn't let that happen. Many people had suggested to allow black soldiers, but some thought they weren't up for the job. So president Lincoln made this experimental regiment to see how they'd do.The Massachusetts 54th was lead by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. Second in charge was Major Cabot Forbes. The highest ranking African American soldier was Sargent Major John Rawlins.


On the right is a picture of the Massachusetts 54th posing for a picture.

Training of the Massachusetts 54th

The soon to be soldiers had to first learn to follow basic instructions. Most not knowing how to read or write made some things difficult. They learned to march, use a bayonet, and shoot and load a gun. They were trained by Sargent Major Mulcahy, who was very hard on the men, but was necessary to get them ready for battle.

Facing Discrimination

The white soldiers did not treat the Massachusetts 54th fairly. They made the usual racists remarks towards them. They did not get paid equally as the white soldiers. They refused to accept their pay. Colonel Robert Gould Shaw said if they won't take pay he won't either, nor would any other white officer in the Massachusetts 54th.


On the right is Robert Gould Shaw, who said no one would take pay including himself.

Their Arrival in South Carolina

The Massachusetts 54th did not feel bad about going back. They thought of it as they were going there to free their friends and family. Sargent Rawlins was promoted to Sargent Major, the highest rank possible for an African American soldier. There was a party thrown for the Massachusetts 54th.

Their 1st Assignment in South Carolina

They were sent to go and get supplies. They went with groups of contraband soldiers, slaves that had been freed then given uniforms to fight. They went to a nearby town and looted it completely. They then burned down the town after the raid.

No Fighting Just Manual Labor for the Massachusetts 54th

The Massachusetts 54th was set to do labor. They were building and digging for the white soldiers. The idea of some was to have them come to work, but never actually get a chance to fight. This was not fair, for that is not what they signed up to do. They came to fight.

Their 1st Battle Assignment on James Island

The 54th fired first upon the rebels. Then the Confederates took a turn. They both switched to firing at will. Then charged each other and went into an all out melee. But when everything was done the Massachusetts 54th came out victorious. Although they sadly suffered 42 casualties on the battle field.

The Massachusetts 54th Volunteers for the Attack on Fort Wagner.

The path is narrow, only one regiment can pass through at a time. It is likely not many from the first regiment will survive. That did not stop the 54th, they volunteered to be the first to attack. Colonel Shaw spoke of his men's' bravery, courage, and spirit of the battle that had occurred a couple days ago.

The Attack on Fort Wagner

As they prepared for the coming day, they sang and prayed to their lord and savior. They were readying themselves for the battle to come. The next day as they marched to the beach, fellow white soldiers lined up to cheer on and give them their respects. They arrive at the beach and line up.


The Massachusetts 54th charges the fort. Many are being shot by the cannons and mortars. Colonel Shaw orders his men to take cover in some nearby dunes. After waiting for a while to regroup Colonel Shaw gives the word as they charge over the dunes. They were funneled to the base of the fort where many were shot by the wall guards up above. Colonel Shaw charges up in an attempt to break through... but was shot dead. In anger at their fallen leader and friend the Massachusetts 54th charges up the wall to engage the men above. After clearing the wall they rush deeper into the fort, where Confederate cannons lie in wait. They get to them to find it is to late, the rebel cannons fire upon them.

The Outcome

Colonel Shaw was buried with his men, where he will rest in peace. The word of the bravery of the Massachusetts 54th spread across the United States. Seeing how well they did African Americans could now join the war effort. They are credited with the tides of war being turned.