54th Massachusetts Volunteers : aka 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment

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54th Massachusetts Volunteers (Colored) History

54th Massachusetts Volunteers : An All Black Infantry Regiment


The 54th Regt. Mass. Vol. Inf. was the first military
unit composed of men of African descent to be raised in
Massachusetts. Twenty-seven men, the nucleus of the
organization, assembled at Camp Meigs, Readville, Feb. 21,
1863 The companies were mustered in on various dates
between March 30 and May 13, the recruits coming from all
parts of Massachusetts and many from outside the State. As
more enlistments were secured than were needed, the surplus
became the nucleus of the 55th.

Captain Robert Gould Shaw, an officer in the 2d Mass.
Inf., was commissioned colonel of the 54th, and Captain
Norwood P. Hallowell of the 20th Mass. Inf., lieutenant
colonel. All the commissioned officers of the regiment were
white men.

Lieut. Col. Norwood P. Hallowell did not remain long with
the 54th. On May 30, 1863, he was commissioned colonel of the
55th, and on the following day Major Edward N. Hallowell was
commissioned lieutenant colonel in his place.

Leaving camp May 28, 1863, the regiment was reviewed by
Governor Andrew, and embarked the same day on the transport
DE MOLAY for the coast of South Carolina. Touching at Hilton
Head, June 3, the transport proceeded the same day to
Beaufort. During the month of June the 54th visited New
Frederica, St. Simon's Island, and St. Helena Island.
Embarking July 8, it proceeded to Stono Inlet, where it became
a part of General Terry's expedition to James Island near
Charleston, S.C. Near Secessionville, July 16, the Federals
were attacked by a force under General Colquitt, and in the
battle which followed the 54th lost 14 killed, 18 wounded,
and three missing.

Ordered to report to General Strong on Morris Island,
July 18, it was there assigned to lead the attack on Fort
Wagner the same evening. In this disastrous assault the 54th
lost Colonel Shaw, Captains Russell and Simpkins, and over 20
men killed, Lieut. Colonel E. N. Hallowell, ten other
commissioned officers, and 125 men wounded, and over 100
missing, many of the latter being killed. Six days later Col.
M. S. Littlefield of the 4th South Carolina was placed in
command of the 54th, and held it through the summer and early

All through the month of August the regiment was occupied
in constructing intrenchments and parallels which were
gradually pushed up to within a short distance of Fort Wagner,
and when the fort was evacuated by the Confederates, Sept. 7,
the 54th was the first regiment to enter the works.

The autumn of 1863 was occupied in the reconstruction of
Forts Wagner and Gregg so that they would face toward Fort
Sumter and Charleston, and in erecting other fortifications.
On Oct. 17, Lieut. Colonel E. N. Hallowell, now promoted to
colonel, returned and assumed command. Service in front of
Charleston, such as outlined above, occupied the 54th until
mid winter.

In the latter part of January 1864, the regiment was
assigned to an expedition to the Florida coast commanded by
General Seymour. It broke camp on Morris Island, Jany. 29,
reported next day at Hilton Head, and sailed Feb. 5, for
Jacksonville. Arriving Feb. 7, about a week later it
accompanied an expedition into the interior. On Feb. 20, it
was engaged with the enemy near Olustee, Fla., while covering
the retirement of General Seymour's force from that place,
losing 13 killed, 66 wounded, and eight missing.

The regiment now remained at Jacksonville until April 17,
when it returned to Morris Island in front of Charleston,
S.C. Now commanded by Lieut. Col. Henry N. Hooper, it spent
the summer and fall of 1864 in the fortifications on James and
Morris Islands.

On Nov. 27, eight companies, under command of Lieut. Col.
Hooper, were transported to Hilton Head, and attached to
Hartwell's (3d) Brigade, Hatch's Coast Division. Six of these
companies were engaged at Honey Hill, Nov. 30, losing three
killed 38 wounded, and four missing. On Dec. 6, they were
engaged at Deveau's Neck without, loss. From Dec. 19, 1864,
to Feb. 12, 1865, the 54th, as a part of Hatch's Division, was
on guard duty at or near Pocotaligo, S.C., Sherman's base of
supplies, and making frequent demonstrations along the
Cambahee River. About Feb. 13 it was reported that the
Confederates had retired to the Ashepoo River in the direction
of Charleston. Hatch's Division soon followed, crossing the
Combahee, Feb. 16, the Ashepoo on the 20th, and reached a
position on the Ashley opposite Charleston Feb. 23. Here it
was found that the city was in the possession of the Union
forces, mostly from Morris Island, and among them Companies
'' B '' and '' F '' of the 54th which had been detached from
the rest of the regiment since the preceding November. The
Confederates had evacuated the place the night of Feb. 17,
first setting fire to the bridge across the Ashley River and
to all buildings in the city which were used as storehouses
for cotton, and the following morning the place was occupied
by the Federal forces. The main body of the 54th was ferried
over the Ashley and entered the city Feb. 27, and now the
separated companies of the regiment were reunited.

Here the 54th remained until the 12th of March when it
was sent by transport to Savannah, Ga. From there, on the
27th, it was sent to Georgetown, S.C., arriving on the
31st. Here it was attached to Hallowell's Brigade of Potter's
Division, and on April 5 set out on a raid into the interior
of the State. At Boykin's Mills, April 18, the 54th was
engaged with the enemy, losing three killed and 24 wounded,
one of the killed being 1st Lieutenant Stevens of Brighton,
Mass. On April 25 the regiment returned to Georgetown, the
close of hostilities having been announced four days

Returning to Charleston, May 6, a large part of the
regiment was distributed at various points in the State until
Aug. 17, when it was assembled at Mount Pleasant, and
mustered out Aug. 20. Embarking on the following day on the
transports C. F. THOMAS and ASHLAND, it reached Galloup's
Island, Boston Harbor, Aug. 27 and 28. The men were
paid off Sept. 1, and on the following day, after being
reviewed by the governor, and having paraded in the vicinity
of the Common and Beacon Hill, the regiment was disbanded.

An important chapter in the history of the 54th was its
fight for the regular soldier's pay of $13. per month. At the
outset the men were assured by Governor Andrew that they
should receive the same pay and emoluments as all other
volunteer soldiers. But in July 1863, came an order from
Washington fixing the compensation of colored soldiers at $10.
per month, and several times an offer was made to the men of
the 54th of this amount. As many times it was persistently

In November 1863, the legislature of Massachusetts
passed an act providing that the difference of $3. per month
should be made up by the State, but the men of the regiment
refused to accept money so appropriated by Massachusetts.
They demanded that they receive from the national government
their full soldier pay. For eighteen months after the first
companies entered the service the men received nothing for
their services and sufferings.

Finally in September 1864, their just demands were
acceded to by the government, and all the members of the
regiment received their full pay from the time of their
enlistment totaling approximately $170,000.

Credit: Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors & Marines in the Civil War

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Recommended Studies: 54th Massachusetts Volunteers; African American Regiments (USCT); African Americans and the American Civil War

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