National Archives and Records Administration


"The Fifty-fourth did well and nobly. . . . They moved up as gallantly as any troops could, and with their enthusiasm they deserved a better fate."
--Edward L. Pierce, correspondent for the New York Tribune,
to Governor John A. Andrew, July 22, 1863
In the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on January 1, 1863, President Lincoln announced that black men would be accepted into the U.S. Army and Navy. Of the estimated 2 million people who fought on the Union side, some 180,000 black soldiers and sailors fought for the Union and for freedom during the Civil War.

The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment was one of the most celebrated regiments of black soldiers that fought in the Civil War. Known simply as "the 54th," this regiment became famous after the heroic, but ill-fated, assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina. Leading the direct assault under heavy fire, the 54th suffered enormous casualties before being forced to withdraw. The courage and sacrifice of the 54th helped to dispel doubt within the Union Army about the fighting ability of black soldiers and earned this regiment undying battlefield glory. The 1989 film Glory tells the story of the 54th.

Casualty list of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment from the assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, July 16-18, 1863

Shown here is one of the 54th's casualty lists with the names of 116 enlisted men who died at Fort Wagner. Of the 600 men that charged Fort Wagner, 272 were killed, wounded, or captured.
National Archives, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, 1780's-1917

A high-resolution image (134K JPEG) of the complete casualty list may also be seen.


Sgt. Henry Stewart, Company E, 54th Massachusetts Infantry
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston
(Not to be used without permission.)


Veterans of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry at the dedication of the memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the men of the 54th, May 31, 1897
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston
(Not to be used without permission.)

The memorial is located on the Boston Common. Col. Robert Gould Shaw, son of a white abolitionist, led the 54th and died during the assault on Fort Wagner. He was buried unceremoniously by Confederate troops in a common grave with the men he commanded.

Records of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment are among the military records held by the National Archives.


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