the staff of the Ridgewood blog
Boston Ma, On #ThisDayinHistory 1863, the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the most famous African-American regiment of the war, leaves Boston for combat in the South. For the first two years of the war, President Abraham Lincoln resisted the use of black troops despite the pleas of men such as Frederick Douglass, who argued that no one had more to fight for than African Americans. Lincoln finally endorsed, albeit timidly, the introduction of blacks for service in the military in the Emancipation Proclamation. On May 22, 1863, the War Department established the Bureau of Colored Troops to recruit and assemble black regiments. Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the idealistic scion of an abolitionist family, headed the 54th. After being selected by Massachusetts Governor John Andrew to organize and lead the 54th, Shaw carefully selected the most physically fit soldiers and white officers with established antislavery views. The regiment included two of Frederick Douglass’s sons and the grandson of Sojourner Truth. On July 18, 1863, the 54th took on a bold but doomed attack against Fort Wagner, South Carolina, in which Shaw was killed and the 54th suffered heavy casualties. The story of the 54th Massachusetts was immortalized in the critically acclaimed 1990 movie Glory.