The Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry

The Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry


In the beginning of the war thousand of blacks throughout the north wanted to be in the war, but the Union Army rejected there offer to volunteer. President Lincoln believed the war would die out quickly, so he did not believe in allowing blacks to serve in the army. Lincoln was also terrified of losing control of slave owners. However, as the war gain momentum the union army needed more troops, therefore, blacks were eventually allowed to fight with the northern army. In the early stages of the war, Lincoln had freed the slaves from the south, who lived in union territories.


The 54th Massachusetts was among the best black regiments. In 1862, several Union fighters in the lower Mississippi Valley, the South Carolina Sea Islands, and on the Kansas- Missouri border had quietly organized black troops. They also were sent into battle. There were 650 men who fought in the war. The 25-year-old son of a prominent Boston antislavery family was given command of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. Many blacks came out of the North to serve in the regiment. Some of them were from elite families like two sons of Frederick Douglass, who were among the troops. However, the officers were drawn from New England’s white elite, mainly from white families. The 54th also played an important role in gaining equal pay for black soldiers. In 1862, the federal government provided payment to black soldiers for their service, but a larger payment was to the white soldiers. Lincoln’s attorney ruled that every soldier should be paid equally. Therefore, Congress passed an act and later in 1864 the Fifty-fourth got their back wages. John A. Andrew was the governor of Massachusetts; he authorized black regiments to be directed by the white officers. In 1863, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the 25-year old son of a prominent Bostonian and a member of an antislavery family was given authority of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

The Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry is an example of black soldiers in the military. There were several advantages of being in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry. One was that black people were freed from slavery and allowed to fight with white soldiers. Also blacks eventually got paid the same amount of money as white soldiers. Blacks received education and training. Blacks were blessed with food and a place to stay. This contributed to raising self-esteem & status.  The disadvantages of being in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry started with racist white people, who did not want black people to fight in the armed forces. Originally, blacks were "ripped off" by not get the same amount of money as whites. In addition, they were not treated fairly and few people believe in the soldiers. Despite these problem these men prevailed.

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