The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was the first military unit consisting of black soldiers to be raised in the North during the Civil War. Prior to 1863, no concerted effort was made to recruit black troops as Union soldiers. The passage of the Emancipation Proclamation in December of 1862 provided the impetus for the use of free black men as soldiers and, at a time when state governors were responsible for the raising of regiments for federal service, Massachusetts was the first to respond with the formation of the Fifty-fourth Regiment.
The formation of the regiment was a matter of controversy and public attention from its inception. Questions were raised as to the black man's ability to fight in the "white man's war." Although Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew believed that black men were capable of leadership, others felt that commissioning blacks as officers was simply too controversial; Andrew needed all the support he could get. The commissioned officers, then, were white and the enlisted men black. Any black officers up to the rank of lieutenant were non-commissioned and reached their positions by moving up through the ranks. On 28 May 1863, upon the presentation of the unit's colors by the governor and a parade through the streets of Boston, spectators lined the streets with the hopes of viewing this experimental unit. The regiment then departed Boston on the transport De Molay for the coast of South Carolina.
Sergeant William H. Carney Civil War Hero 1840-1908
" When a soldier from another regiment offered to take the flag so Carney could seek medical aid, he replied, "No one but a member of the 54th should carry the colors!" Upon carrying the flag back into camp after the battle, he received rousing cheers from other units but simply replied, typically for a Medal of Honor recipient, "I only did my duty."
On July 18, 1863, during the Battle of Fort Wagner, South Carolina
a hero is born!
Over 180,000 black soldiers served in the union army during the civil war, among them was the Men of the 54th Regiment. They were made up from ex-slaves who wanted to join the union and fight to help secure there freedom and the freedom of slaves not yet freed.
Among them was the first black soldier to receive the Medal of Honor (William Harvey Carney ) , Born a slave in Norfolk, Virginia , and studying to be a minister decided the best way he could serve his Lord and help his people would be to join the union. he became a hero at 23yrs old when he saw that another colored soldier that was carrying the Flag in battle at Fort Wagner was wounded. Never wavering and taking bullets as he ran , he took the flag from the wounded soldier never letting it touch the ground, and determined to only release it to someone from his regiment. He shouted as he turned the Flag over to his comrades, ( " The old Flag never touched the ground! " ) then he collapsed from the wounds he had received. On that day William Harvey Carney became an legionary hero , but would have to wait over three decades before he would receive it. Over 1,500 black troops died during the Battle of Fort Wagner, on July 18 1863.