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54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry
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54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry

The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was an infantry regiment that participated in the American Civil War which was the first formal Army unit to be comprised of African-Americans.

This unit, organized by the governor of Massachusetts, John A. Andrew and commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw after the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation, was created for the express purpose of proving that African-Americans could be good soldiers. The officers were hand-picked by Andrew himself and the men recruited by prominent blacks such as Frederick Douglass. The 54th left Boston, Massachusetts to fight for the Union on May 28, 1863.

The 54th started off in a manual labour role. When used in a raid against the town of Darien, they gained notoriety after mistreating and terrorising the townsfolk. However, the regiment gained nationwide fame on July 18, 1863 when it spearheaded an assault on Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina. Although the unit was not able to take and hold the exceptionally secure fort, the regiment was widely acclaimed for its valor and the event helped encourage the further enlistment and mobilization of African Americans which Abraham Lincoln once noted was a key development that helped secure final victory in the Civil War. Decades later, William Harvey Carney, the flag bearer of the unit during that attack became the first African-American awarded the Medal of Honor.

Later in the war, the 54th fought a rear-guard action covering the Union retreat at the Battle of Olustee.

The unit was disbanded after the Civil War and was eventually largely forgotten, aside from the monument (1884 - 1897) by Augustus Saint-Gaudens on the Boston Common. More recently, the story of the unit was depicted in the 1989 Academy Award winning film Glory starring Matthew Broderick and Denzel Washington. The film reestablished the now-popular image of the combat role African-Americans played in the Civil War and the unit, often played in historical battle simulations, now has the nickname of The Glory Regiment.