Back on May 28, I entered a post about the anniversary of the departure of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry from Boston to action in South Carolina. The 54th Massachusetts was one of the first regiments of black soldiers to be organized to fight for the Union in the Civil War.
On this day in 1863, the 54th Massachusetts would take part in its first major action of the Civil War, the attack on Fort Wagner, located on Morris Island, South Carolina. As part of General George C. Strong’s Brigade, the 54th was selected to lead the assault. They would be supported by the four remaining regiments in their Brigade, as well as the four regiments in Col. Haldimend Putnam’s Brigade.
Led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the the 600 men of 54th began their advance on the West face of Fort Wagner, about 240 yards away. When they got within about 150 yards of their objective, Confederate artillery and small arms opened fire on the 54th, tearing holes in their formation. The 54th broke into a charge and briefly carried a portion of the works, but could not maintain their position and a Confederate counter attack drove them from the fort.
Casualties were heavy from the attack. General Strong would took a wound in the thigh from a grape shot round and would die two weeks later from sepsis. Colonel Putnam was killed during the assault. The 54th suffered 247 casualties, about 40% of their strength. Among the killed was Col. Shaw.
Word of the gallant charge and bravery displayed by the 54th Massachusetts convinced President Lincoln to create more black regiments. The movie “Glory” chronicals the 54th Massachusetts through recruiting, training and Fort Wagner assault.
Boatner, Mark: “ The Civil War Encyclopedia
The Official Records of the War of the Rebellion
Foote, Shelby: The Civil War, from Fredericksburg to Meridien
Assorted articles from Blue & Gray Magazine and Civil War Times Illustrated among others.