The Bravest Black Regiment

Early in 1863, Massachusetts Governor John Andrew authorized the recruitment of an all-black regiment from his state. He also selected Robert Gould Shaw, the son of a prominent white family of abolitionists, to lead it. In July, 1863, the regiment, named the 54th Massachusetts, was asked to charge heavily armed Confederates dug in at Fort Wagner, outside Charleston, South Carolina. Colonel Shaw, with sword and pistol in hand, led the regiment's attack and was the first to reach the top of the fort's walls. He was killed there as he shouted, "Onward, Fifty-fourth!" The attack failed and cost the regiment 272 troopers in addition to Shaw. Intending to insult the memory of the white colonel, Confederates buried him in a mass grave along with his dead black soldiers. Shaw and the 54th are memorialized with a sculpture in Boston's Public Gardens.

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