The Emancipation, issued as a military degree freed all enslaved people in states still rebellion after January 1, 1863. Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not actually free a single slave, it was an important turning point in the war. Just two months before the proclamation, Congress passed the Militia Act, mandating that black soldiers be accepted into the military.The Massachusetts Governor supported the formation of the all-black 54th Massachusetts Regiment proudly. Early in February 1863, the abolitionist Governor of Massachusetts issued the Civil War’s first call for black soldiers. Massachusetts did not have many African-American residents, but by the time 54th Infantry regiment headed off to training camp two weeks later more than 1,000 men had volunteered. By the end of the war, 180,000 African Americans volunteers had served in the Union military.
Racists attitudes left many whites with low expectations for black troops. But performance in battle proved these expectations false. On July 18, 1863, after the heavy land and sea bombardment subsided, Gillmore sent forward his Federal regiments. The assault was led by the 54thMassachusetts regiment; a Boston regiment filled with free African-Americans, and led by the Harvard educated Col. Robert Gould Shaw. The decision to have the 54th Massachusetts lead this dangerous attack was fraught with all sorts of political and military risk, but in the end it was Shaw’s men that led the attack up the narrow beach. As the Federal soldiers neared the fort they were subjected to artillery and musket fire that shredded the exposed Yankee ranks. Despite their heavy losses, the remnants of the 54th Massachusetts reached and scaled the earthen walls of Fort Wagner. Descending into the fort, the 54th engaged in a bloody hand-to-hand struggle with the Confederate defenders. Col. Shaw, shouting “Onward boys! Onward boys!” was quickly shredded by a number of Confederate bullets and died on the sandy ramparts. By...
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