The 54th Massachusetts Infantry
Have you seen the movie Glory? The movie focused on the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, one of the first regiments in the Civil War made up of African American soldiers. The high point of the movie was the bravery shown by this regiment at the Battle at Fort Wagner in July 1863 by leading an attack against a Confederate fortress in South Carolina.
Henry Addison, a Pennsylvania resident, enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts in May 1863. Although he was free before the war started, he risked being taken into slavery or killed if captured by the Confederates. His pension file and service records at the National Archives show that he not only took part in the Battle at Fort Wagner, but survived a gunshot wound to the chest. He served through the war’s end, discharged in August 1865.
There were about 600 men from the 54th Massachusetts who took part in this battle. Some estimates state that a little less than half were killed, wounded, captured, or missing (and presumed dead) in the Battle of Fort Wagner. One of first African Americans to receive the Medal of Honor, Sergeant William Carney, was from this regiment. He was honored after recovering the flag during the battle and returning it to the Union lines
This battle was a Confederate victory, but as the saying goes, they won the battle, but not the war. As a result of the bravery of Henry Addison and the rest of the 54th Massachusetts in this battle, they earned a reputation of being fearless soldiers. More recruiters became accepting of the idea of African Americans serving in the Union Army. Enlistments increased, and about 180,000 men eventually served in the US Colored Troops during the war. The addition of these men drastically increased number of soldiers in the Union Army, which led in part to the victory of the Union almost two years later.
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