By Kaleena Fraga | Edited By Jaclyn Anglis Published February 7, 2023
Updated February 10, 2023
Immortalized in the 1989 movie Glory, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was one of the most storied African American units that fought for the Union.
On a July day in 1863, a regiment of Union soldiers took their position near the Confederate-held Fort Wagner in South Carolina in preparation for battle. Like other Union troops, they were dressed in blue and carried bayonets.
But this regiment was unique. Unlike most other Union units, the 54th Massachusetts Regiment was made up of all Black men.
Led by a white officer, Robert Gould Shaw, the 54th Massachusetts Regiment was just the second all-Black Union unit of the Civil War. The unit had been formed in Massachusetts, but it drew men from all over America who were eager to fight after the Emancipation Proclamation allowed them to do so.
After months of training, the men of the 54th would fight bravely in the doomed assault on Fort Wagner. Though nearly half of them would be killed, injured, or taken prisoner during the attack, they would inspire Black men across the nation to pick up arms and help the Union win the war.