The 54th Massachusetts: The Roles Of The American Civil War

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The American Civil War was fought from 1861-1865. It was a turning point for this still young nation. One of the many units that fought for the North was the 54th Massachusetts, a unit of all free black men. The men in this unit were all free when they volunteered to join and fight. Though promised differently, the men of the 54th Massachusetts did not receive the same pay as a white soldier of the same rank. Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and his men were one of the main units in the assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina. The 54th Massachusetts was the first black unit for the US Army and paved the way for so many after, and also dissolved many stereotypes. President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1963, at that …show more content…
Shaw was very reluctant to lead the new regiment as he was young. He had been involved in the battles of Cedar Mountain and Antietam (Civilwar.org, 2016). On February 5, 1863, Shaw sent word to his father, Francis Shaw, to destroy a letter he was carrying. This letter was to the governor of Massachusetts declining command of the newly created unit. In the same telegraph telling his father to destroy this letter Shaw asked him to instead inform the governor he would except the position (Burchard, 1965). When the call went out for volunteers, Massachusetts did not have a lot of blacks to recruit. They came from other states as well and as far away as Canada (History.com, 2010). One-quarter of the recruits came from the Caribbean and slave states. One of the men who joined the regiment was William H. Carney. At the time, he was 23 and a free slave from Norfolk, Virginia who had joined the regiment from Bedford, Massachusetts where his family had settled after gaining their freedom (Hammond, 2007). He gave up his ministry to join the 54th but would later play an important part on the Battle of Fort Wagner (Hammond 2007). When the men later marched into this battle on Morris Island, they were tired but proud (Pohanka, …show more content…
This was the same pay white soldiers received. It was a shock to the men of the 54th, as well as their officers, when they found out the men were only being paid $10.00 a month. This was $3.00 less then their white counterparts (History.com, 2010). Shaw led a boycott to get the unequal pay fixed (Civilwar.org, 2016). Everyone in the regiment, from the highest ranking officer to the lowest enlisted man, refused to accept any pay until the situation was rectified. This did not happen until March 2, 1864 (Burchard, 1965). Even though they were protesting the difference in pay, the men did not refuse to train and fight. Therefore, the 54th joined the rest of the Union Army to mount an assault on Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863 (Pohanka,

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