|In response to the
Emancipation Proclamation and with the federal government’s permission,
Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts ordered the organization of the
all-black 54th Massachusetts Regiment in February 1863
|The first 25 volunteers were
organized at Camp Meigs, Readville, MA. The recruitment area was expanded to
include the entire Union and its territories because of problems enlisting
enough black volunteers from New England,. Black and white abolitionists,
most notably Frederick Douglass, also helped Massachusetts attract the
necessary numbers of African Americans.
|The 54th Massachusetts
earned widespread fame for its unsurpassed bravery during the assault on Fort
Wagner, South Carolina on July 18, 1863. The unit’s white commanding officer,
Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, and 116 enlisted men died in the unsuccessful attempt
to take the Confederate fort. Another 156 members of the 54th were wounded or
captured during this battle.
|Sergeant William H. Carney’s
bravery under fire during the assault on Fort Wagner earned him the Medal of
Honor. He was the first African American to receive this prestigious award.
Another 14 black soldiers were also honored with this medal for their heroism
during the Civil War.