The 54th Regiment of Massachusetts: African-American Soldiers of the Civil War

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On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves in the rebelling territories of the confederacy and authorizing Black enlistment in the Union Army. Since the beginning of the Civil War, free Black people in general, , were ready to fight on behalf of the Union, yet they were prevented from doing so. Popular racial stereotypes and discrimination against Blacks in the military contributed to the prevailing myth that Black men did not have the intelligence and bravery necessary to serve their country. By the fall of 1862, however, the lack of White Union enlistment and confederate victories at Antietem forced the U.S. government to reconsider its racist policy. As Congress met in…show more content…
By the time training began at Camp Meigs, Shaw and his officers began work with the soldiers whose bravery would forever change public perception of Black military skills.
Within six weeks after the opening of Camp Meigs for training, a little over 100 volunteers had been enlisted in the fifty-fourth, 47 of them from Boston. Because the Black population of Massachusetts was so small (approximately 4500 in 1860), Governor Andrew asked George L. Stearns to support the enlistment of Black troops throughout the northern states. Abolitionists across the north contributed over $5000 to Stearns' committee to pay for advertising and publicity, while Stearns solicited the help of Black community leaders across the country. (Glathaar 1990). These leaders, all of whom served as recruiting agents for the Union army, included: Frederick Douglass, Lewis Hayden, John Coburn, Charles Lenox Remond, and William Wells Brown. As a result, over 1000 volunteers enlisted in the 54th Regiment, a response so overwhelming that Massachusetts organized a second Black regiment, the fifty-fifth. Men of the fifty-fourth represented twenty-four states, the District of Columbia, the West Indies, and Africa. Approximately 25% of them had been slaves, over 50% were literate, and, even though as civilians they had worked in forty-six different occupations, the overwhelming majority (55%) were laborers. Regardless of origin, occupation, or social class, the men of the 54th Regiment both inspired

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