More on the 54th

Robert Gould Shaw first organized the Fifty-fourth regiment of Massachusetts in March 1863. Shaw was twenty-six year old member of a wealthy abolitionist family. After serving in the Second Massachusetts Infantry Shaw was appointed colonel of the Fifty-Fourth in February 1863. Since the Fifty-Fourth was the first colored regiment formed in the Northern States many people were very curious and showed great interest.  The regiment was compiled of mainly free blacks of the North. Among the many recruits were both sons of the famous abolitionist, Frederick Douglass.

Robert Gould Shaw

After much training and preparation the regiment was sent to the Southern war front. They saw their first action at James Island. The unit earned most of its fame when they led the attack on Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863. During this failed attack the Fifty-fourth suffered the loss of over 250 men including Colonel Shaw (#3, p. 233).

Attack on Ft.Wagner


This valiant charge along with Shaw’s Death, made the Fifty-fourth a household name throughout the North. For the rest of 1863 regiment participated in siege operations around Charleston before traveling to Florida. Nearly 500 officers and men were involved in the Florida campaign led by their new leader Edward N. Hallowell. The fifty-fourth was very eager to avenge the battle at Fort Wagner. Along with the 35th United States Colored Troops, the Fifty-fourth entered the battle late at Olustee, Florida, but helped aid in saving the Union Army from disaster (#3, p. 233). The regiment lost eighty-six men in battle, the lowest casualties suffered by any of the three black regiments. The Fifty-fourth would remain in the South and fight in such battles as Honey Hill. Today this regiment remains very popular due mainly to the 1989 movie, "Glory".