Glory: The 54th Massachusetts

negro-regiment-54th-ma

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

“Any negro taken in arms against the Confederacy will immediately be returned to a state of slavery. Any negro taken in Federal uniform will be summarily put to death. Any white officer taken in command of negro troops shall be deemed as inciting servile insurrection and shall likewise be put to death.” Proclamation of the Confederate Congress

A couple of days ago I took the time to watch again, the film Glory about the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, one of the first African American Regiments raised for service in the Civil War. I have seen the movie a number of times, and it never fails to bring tears to my eyes. Of course I have written a number of articles about the 54th and other African American units in the Civil War, the later “Buffalo Soldiers” and African American military pioneers, but I cannot forget the 54th. These were men who volunteered and remained in service knowing that the Confederate Congress had condemned them to death should they ever be captured. They also endured the mocking of some White Union soldiers as well as pay inequity with whites, for doing the same dangerous job as infantrymen.

Over half of the regiment was including their commander, the twenty-six year-old Colonel Robert Gould Shaw were killed in an abortive assault on Battery Wagner outside of Charleston South Carolina on July 18th, 1863. Following the assault, “Sergeant William H Carney staggered back from the fort with wounds in his chest and right arm, but with the regiment’s Stars and Stripes securely in his grasp. “The old flag never touched the ground, boys,” Carney gasped as he collapsed at the first field hospital he could find.” He would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

Think that it was an insult the Confederates threw Colonel Shaw’s body in a mass grave with his African American soldiers. When Union commanders asked for the return of his body were told “We have buried him with his niggers,” Shaw’s father quelled a northern effort to recover his son’s body with these words: We hold that a soldier’s most appropriate burial-place is on the field where he has fallen.”

When Shaw first went to war he wrote to his mother words that should be in all of our hearts when we fight for the rights of others, especially those who are despised due to their race, color, religion, gender, or sexual orientation: “We fight for men and women whose poetry is not yet written but which will presently be as enviable and as renowned as any.” We also must remember that as we do so, that there will be those who oppose us, and who, if they ever had the chance who condemn us to death for doing so.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, History

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