Fight for Freedom: The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment

To Colored Men. 54 Regiment

Boston: J. E. Farwell & Co, [1863?]

Recruitment poster for the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, the first regiment to enlist Black men as soldiers for the Union Army during the Civil War. Source: http://www.masshist.org/database/viewer.php?item_id=49&pid=15

Overview

The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was the first military unit consisting of black soldiers to be raised in the North during the Civil War. Prior to 1863, no concerted effort was made to recruit black troops as Union soldiers. The adoption of the Emancipation Proclamation in December of 1862 provided the impetus for the use of free black men as soldiers and, at a time when state governors were responsible for the raising of regiments for federal service, Massachusetts was the first to respond with the formation of the Fifty-fourth Regiment.

The formation of the regiment was a matter of controversy and public attention from its inception. Questions were raised as to the black man’s ability to fight in the “white man’s war.” Although Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew believed that black men were capable of leadership, others felt that commissioning blacks as officers was simply too controversial; Andrew needed all the support he could get. The commissioned officers, then, were white and the enlisted men black. Any black officers up to the rank of lieutenant were non-commissioned and reached their positions by moving up through the ranks. On 28 May 1863, upon the presentation of the unit’s colors by the governor and a parade through the streets of Boston, spectators lined the streets with the hopes of viewing this experimental unit. The regiment then departed Boston on the transport De Molay for the coast of South Carolina.

Selected Portraits

Recruiting and Enlisting Soldiers

   TOP

Fort Wagner

http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/black-civil-war-soldiers

http://www.masshist.org/online/54thregiment/essay.php?entry_id=528

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