Honoring the First Black Soldiers Allowed to Fight in the Civil War on Juneteenth

A Stone Monument With A Lion And A Lion On It

The 54th Massachusetts Infantry, which was a volunteer Union regiment in the fight against Confederate forces, made significant contributions to the North's victory over the South. Here is summary of noteworthy and interesting facts, that connect this regiment of brave black soldiers to the Juneteenth American holiday, Battery Wharf and the Massachusetts State House:

Origins and Recruitment:
In early February 1863, abolitionist Governor John A. Andrew of Massachusetts issued the Civil War’s first call for Black soldiers. Despite Massachusetts having relatively few African American residents, over 1,000 men volunteered for the 54th Infantry regiment. Some came from other states and even Canada. Fathers and sons, including Charles and Lewis Douglass (sons of abolitionist Frederick Douglass), enlisted together.

Leadership and Courage:
Governor Andrew chose young white officer Robert Gould Shaw to lead the 54th Massachusetts. Shaw had dropped out of Harvard to join the Union Army and had been injured in the Battle of Antietam. On May 28, 1863, the 54th’s 1,007 Black soldiers and 37 white officers assembled in Boston Common, ready to head to the battlefields of the South. Despite the Confederate Congress threatening to sell captured Black soldiers into slavery and execute white officers leading Black troops, the regiment marched forward.

Fort Wagner Assault:
The 54th Massachusetts gained fame through their assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina in July 1863. Their heroic but tragic efforts inspired the enlistment of over 180,000 Black men, bolstering morale and manpower crucial to the Union’s victory and the end of slavery.

Juneteenth Significance:
The 54th Massachusetts holds immense significance for Juneteenth, an annual holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved people. Their bravery and sacrifice exemplified the fight for freedom and equality, resonating with the spirit of Juneteenth.

The Copper Statue at Massachusetts State House:
In front of the Massachusetts State House, a copper statue commemorates the 54th Massachusetts regiment. This statue, the largest crown in Boston’s history at the time, symbolizes their departure from Battery Wharf to the DeMolay ship, bound for the warfront in the South. As the regiment left Boston to board the DeMolay in 1863, at what is now the Battery Wharf Hotel, the 54th regiment was honored with the largest parade Boston had seen to date.  

In summary, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment’s legacy as the first Black soldiers allowed to fight in the Civil War remains a testament to courage, resilience, and the ongoing struggle for justice. Their story continues to inspire generations, especially during Juneteenth celebrations

Source: https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories/historical-legacy-juneteenth