54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment recruiting poster

This recruiting poster for the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment offered volunteers $13 per month, plus a clothing allowance for their service. For their first eighteen months in the army, the unit’s men refused their wages because the War Department tried to pay them only $10 per month, minus $3 for clothing — nearly half as much as white soldiers earned. [Wikimedia Commons]

54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment Facts

August 4, 1862–October 30, 1865

Facts about the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment.

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Muster into Federal Service Date:

  • March 30, 1863 (Camp Meigs, Readville, Massachusetts)

Muster Out Date:

  • August 20, 1865 (Mount Pleasant, South Carolina)

Discharge Date:

  • September 1, 1865

Commanders:

  • Colonel Robert Gould Shaw: March 30 – July 18, 1863 (kia at the Battle of Fort Wagner)
  • Colonel Milton S. Littlefield: July 20 – October 1863
  • Colonel Edward N. Hallowell: October 1863 – August 20, 1865

Regimental Service Record:

1863

  • Left Boston on Steamer “De Molay” for Hilton Head, S. C., May 28, arriving there June 3.
  • At Thompson’s Plantation near Beaufort, S. C., June 4-8, 1863.
  • Moved to St. Simon’s Island, June 8-9.
  • Expedition up Altamaha River June 10-11.
  • At St. Simon’s Island June 12-24.
  • At St. Helena Island June 25-July 8.
  • To Stono Inlet July 8. Expedition against James Island July 9-16.
  • Affair Legareville July 13.
  • Secessionville, July 16.
  • Moved to Morris Island July 16-18.
  • Assault on Fort Wagner July 18.
  • Siege operations against Forts Wagner and Gregg, Morris Island, July 18-September 7, and against Fort Sumter and Charleston from September 7, 1863, to January 28, 1864.
  • Capture of Forts Wagner and Gregg September 7, 1863.

1864

  • Moved to Hilton Head, S. C., January 28, 1864.
  • Expedition to Jacksonville, Fla., February 5-7.
  • Capture of Jacksonville February 6.
  • Expedition to Lake City, Fla., February 7-22.
  • Battle of Olustee February 20.
  • Duty at Jacksonville till April 17.
  • Moved to Morris Island April 17-18.
  • Duty on Morris and Folly Islands, S. C., till November 1864.
  • Expedition to James Island June 30-July 10.
  • Actions on James Island July 2, 9, and 10.
  • Six Companies in charge of rebel prisoners under fire of Charleston Batteries September 7 to October 20.
  • Eight Companies moved to Hilton Head, November 27. (Cos. “B” and “F” at Morris Island till February 1865.)
  • Expedition to Boyd’s Neck, S. C., November 29-30.
  • Boyd’s Landing November 29.
  • Battle of Honey Hill November 30.
  • Demonstration on Charleston Camp; Savannah Railroad December 6-9.
  • Moved to Graham’s Neck, December 20.

1865

  • Connect with Sherman’s Army at Pocotaligo, S. C., January 15, 1865.
  • March to Charleston January 15-February 23, skirmishing all the way.
  • (Cos. “B” and “F” occupy Charleston February 18.)
  • Regiment on duty at Charleston from February 27 to March 12.
  • At Savannah, Ga., March 13-27.
  • At Georgetown, S. C., March 31-April 5.
  • Potter’s Expedition to Camden April 5-25.
  • Seven Mile Bridge April 6.
  • Destruction of Eppes’ Bridge, Black River, April 7.
  • Dingle’s Mills April 9.
  • Destruction of Rolling Stock at Wateree
  • Junction April 11. Singleton’s Plantation April 12.
  • Statesburg April 15.
  • Occupation of Camden April 17.
  • Boykin’s Mills April 18.
  • At Georgetown April 25.
  • Duty at Georgetown, Charleston, and various points in South Carolina, April 25 to August 17.
  • Mustered out at Mount Pleasant, S. C., August 20, 1865.
  • Discharged at Boston, Mass., September 1, 1865.

Regimental Assignments Record:

  • Attached to U. S. Forces, St. Helena Island, S. C., 10th Army Corps, Dept. of the South, to July 1863.
  • 3rd Brigade 1st Division, Morris Island, S. C., 10th Army Corps, July 1863.
  • 3rd Brigade, Morris Island, S. C., to August 1863.
  • 4th Brigade, Morris Island, S. C., to November 1863.
  • 3rd Brigade, Morris Island, S. C., to January 1864.
  • Montgomery’s Brigade, District of Hilton Head, S. C., to February 1864.
  • Montgomery’s Brigade, District of Florida, February 1864.
  • 3rd Brigade, Ames’ Division, District of Florida, to April 1864.
  • Folly and Morris Island, S. C., Northern District, Dept. South, to October 1864.
  • 1st Separate Brigade, Dept. South, to November 1864.
  • 2nd Brigade, Coast Division, Dept. South, to February 1865.
  • 1st Separate Brigade, Northern District, Dept. South, to March 1865.
  • 1st Separate Brigade, District of Charleston, S. C., Dept. South, to June 1865.
  • 3rd Sub-District, District of Charleston, Dept. South Carolina, to August 1865.

Notable Engagements:

  • Battle of Grimball’s Landing: July 16, 1863
  • Battle of Fort Wagner: July 18, 1863
  • Battle of Olustee (aka Battle of Ocean Pond): February 20, 1864
  • Battle of Honey Hill: November 30, 1864
  • Battle of Boykin’s Mill: April 18, 1865

Casualties

During the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment’s eighteen months of duty in the volunteer army, 1,354 officers and enlisted men served in its ranks. Of those, five officers and 95 soldiers were killed in action or mortally wounded. Another 106 men were reported as captured or missing; nineteen of them are known to have died in prison, thirty lived to be released, and fifty-seven were never accounted for. Another twenty officers and 274 soldiers were wounded, bringing total casualties for the regiment to 500.

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Significance:

The 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment was important because, as one of the first African-American units to serve in the Union Volunteer Army, it demonstrated that black men could effectively serve as combat soldiers. The valor of the men of the 54th paved the way for over 186,000 enlisted soldiers of African descent who later volunteered to help preserve the Union.

Other Notable Facts

  • On May 23, 1900, Congress awarded Sergeant William Carney the Medal of Honor for his heroism during the Battle of Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863. Although he did not receive the award until thirty-seven years after the fact, Carney was the first African American whose deeds merited the Medal of Honor. (On April 16, 1864, Seaman Robert Blake was the first black service member to physically receive the Medal of Honor.)
  • Lieutenant Edward L. Stevens of the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment became the last Union officer killed during the Civil War when a Confederate soldier shot him from his saddle during the Battle of Boykins Mill on April 18, 1865.
  • The acclaimed Hollywood feature film “Glory” immortalized the heroic deeds of the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment.
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Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment Facts
  • Coverage August 4, 1862–October 30, 1865
  • Author
  • Keywords 54th massachussetts colored volunteer infantry regiment, fort wagner, william carney, edward l. stevens, glory, Robert Gould Shaw
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date August 19, 2022
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 7, 2022
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