54th Massachusetts

July 18, 1863: Assault on Fort Wagner

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We would not have his body removed from where it lies surrounded by his brave and devoted soldiers….We can imagine no holier place than that in which he lies, among his brave and devoted followers, nor wish for him better company – what a body-guard he has!

Response of the parents of Colonel Robert Shaw as to whether they wished to have his body exhumed and brought back to Boston.

The 150th anniversary of the second assault on Fort Wagner, the Confederate fort on Morris Island, guarding entry into Charleston Harbor, made immortal by the film Glory (1989) depicting the attack of the 54th Massachusetts.  The 54th sustained the following casualties out of 600 men:  29 killed, including the commander of the regiment, 25 year old Colonel Robert Shaw, 15 captured, 52 missing in action and 149 wounded.  The white regiments that participated in the attack also sustained heavy losses.  A total of 1515 Union casualties against approximately 174 Confederate casualties.   Ironically Fort Wagner would be abandoned by the Confederates in September, it being too difficult to keep the Fort supplied in the teeth of a continual Union bombardment, and the water supply in the Fort being contaminated by the number of corpses in the soil surrounding the fort from the two unsuccessful assaults.

The courage shown by the men of the 54th put the lie to the fairly common belief, completely at variance with history, that black men could not make good soldiers.  The 54th would go on to fight in several more battles during the course of the war.

Sergeant William Carney of the 54th earned a Medal of Honor in the assault.  Despite being wounded several times he placed the national flag on the parapet of Fort Wagner, and when the 54th retreated he brought back the flag in spite of being wounded twice more.  He told the men he gave the flag to:  “Boys, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground!”

A correspondent for the Tribune was present for the assault: Continue reading

Memoriae Positum

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(Reposted from 2012.)

 He leads for aye the advance,

 Hope’s forlorn-hopes that plant the desperate good

For nobler Earths and days of manlier mood;

James Russell Lowell

Memoriae Positum, memory laid down.  The Latin phrase is a good short hand description of  what History accomplishes.  In 1864 the poet James Russell Lowell wrote a poem entitled Memoriae Positum in tribute to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw who died heroically at age 25  leading the unsuccessful assault of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first black Union regiments, on the Confederate stronghold of Fort Wagner at Charleston, South Carolina on July 18th, 1863.  The poem predicts that Shaw’s memory will live forever and feels sorrow only for those, unlike Shaw, who are unwilling or unable to risk all for their beliefs.  It is a poem completely out of step with the predominant sentiments of our day which seem to value physical survival and enjoyment above everything else.  Here is the text of the poem: Continue reading

July 11, 1863: First Assault on Fort Wagner

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The longest siege in the Civil War was that of Charleston, South Carolina. 567 days the city was besieged by Union naval and land forces, only being taken by Sherman’s troops after the evacuation of the city on February 15, 1865 by the Confederate Army.

The siege began in July of 1863.  Union troops landed on Morris, Island at the mouth of Charleston Harbor, their goal to take Fort Wagner.

Fort Wagner

Brigadier General George C. Strong, portrayed in the video clip at the beginning of this post, was in command of the Union brigade of troops that landed on Morris, Island.  He attempted to take Fort Wagner on July 11, 1863, only to have his attack bloodily repulsed, sustaining 339 casualties to only 12 for the Confederates.  He would try again on July 18, an attack made famous due to the participation of the 54th Massachusetts.

June 11, 1863: Raid on Darien, Georgia

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The video clip above from the movie Glory depicts the raid on Darien, Georgia.  Commanded by an old Jayhawker, Colonel James Montgomery, the commander of the 2nd South Carolina, go here to read about him, with the participation of the 54th Massachusetts, the raid degenerated into the looting and burning of Darien, much to the disgust of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, commander of the 54th.  Here is letter to his newly wed wife in which he details his opinion of the raid: Continue reading

September 22, 1862: Lincoln Issues Notice of Emancipation Proclamation

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Something for the weekend.  Give us a Flag, the unofficial anthem of the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War, written by a private serving in the 54th Massachusetts.

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Today is the 150th anniversary of the issuance of the notice by Lincoln of the Emancipation Proclamation, to take effect on January 1, 1863, Lincoln doing so after the Union victory at Antietam on September 17, 1862.  Reaction was, to say the least, mixed.  In the North the abolitionists were enraptured.  Most Northern opinion was favorable, although there was a substantial minority, embodied almost entirely in the Democrat party, that completely opposed this move.  Opinion in the Border States was resoundingly negative.  In the Confederacy the Confederate government denounced the proposed Emancipation Proclamation as a call for a race war.  Today, almost all Americans view the Emancipation Proclamation as a long overdue ending of slavery.  At the time it was very much a step into the unknown, and the consequences impossible to determine.  Lincoln had converted the War for the Union into a War for the Union and against Slavery.  It remained to be seen as to whether the War, whatever its objectives, could be won.  Here is the text of Lincoln’s announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation: Continue reading

Memoriae Positum

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He leads for aye the advance,

Hope’s forlorn-hopes that plant the desperate good

For nobler Earths and days of manlier mood;

James Russell Lowell

Memoriae Positum, memory laid down.  The Latin phrase is a good short hand description of  what History accomplishes.  In 1864 the poet James Russell Lowell wrote a poem entitled Memoriae Positum in tribute to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw who died heroically at age 25  leading the unsuccessful assault of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first black Union regiments, on the Confederate stronghold of Fort Wagner at Charleston, South Carolina on July 18th, 1863.  The poem predicts that Shaw’s memory will live forever and feels sorrow only for those, unlike Shaw, who are unwilling or unable to risk all for their beliefs.  It is a poem completely out of step with the pre-dominant sentiments of our day which seem to value physical survival and enjoyment above everything else.  Here is the text of the poem: Continue reading

Theme From Glory

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Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letters US, let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder, and bullets in his pocket, and there is no power on earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned the right of citizenship in the United States.

                                                               Frederick Douglass

Something for the weekend.  The theme from the movie Glory (1989), which tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts, one of the first black regiments raised by the Union in the Civil War;   a superb historical film and a long overdue salute to the black Union troops who helped preserve this nation. Continue reading

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