54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, 1863-1865
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Sculpture: Eduard Pérez
Painting: Fernando Ruiz
Number of parts of the kit: 8
Scale: 75 mm
From the beginning of the war, there were Afro-Americans ready to join the Union army to fight against the South. In 1862 there were already two unofficially formed regiments of freed slaves, but they had to wait until the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863 for the Army to admit them officially.
The 54th Massachusetts was organized on March 13th on at request of two important abolitionists, Frederick Douglass and George Luther Stearns. Most of the soldiers had been born in the North and all were volunteers. For the officers, there was the condition that they had to belong to families with strong abolitionist beliefs. That was the case of the commander of the regiment, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. Even if the honor of being the first regiment of colored troops belongs to the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry, and the 54th Massachusetts is in reality the third one, nevertheless it was the first one to be formed with Northern Afro-Americans born free.
In high spirits after the training period, the 54th departed to South Carolina with 1.100 men. Their first combat was the Battle of Grimballs Landing (July 16th, 1863), where they saved the 10th Connecticut, covering their retreat. Two days after, on July 18th, they lead the assault to Fort Wagner’s battery. The regiment suffered great losses, including Colonel Shaw and a total of 256 soldiers and officers.
After that, they fought on several engagements on Florida and South Carolina, like the battles of Olustee, Honey Hill and Boykin’s Mill. During the operations at Pocotaligo (South Carolina), from December, 1864 to February, 1865, they provided support for the arrival of General Sherman’s army in its march to the sea.
From 1864, Afro-Americans enlisted in huge numbers and they led to the creation of more than one hundred of regiments of infantry, cavalry and artillery. It is estimated that around 180.000 soldiers served in the USCT (United States Colored Troops).
The soldiers of the 54th distinguished themselves by an exemplary behavior at all moment. When the regiment received its colors, John A. Andrews, the governor of Massachusetts, dedicated some emotional words to the regiment that will always be associated to them:
“I know not when, in all human history, to any given thousand men in arms there has been committed a work at once so proud, so precious, so full of hope and glory.”