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54th Massachusetts Infantry
in the Civil War

Regimental History
Fifty-fourth Infantry. — Cols., Robert G. Shaw, Edward N. Hallowell; Lieut.-Cols., Norwood P. Hallowell, Edward N. Hallowell, George Pope; Majs., Edward N. Hallowell, H. Northey Hooper, John W. M. Appleton, George Pope, James M. Walton. This was the first colored regiment recruited in the Northern States east of the Mississippi river. On Jan. 26, 1863, Gov. Andrew was granted authority by the secretary of war to enlist black recruits and to organize them into special corps, under the command of white officers. The first recruits were raised at Boston on Feb. 9, and by the end of the following month four companies had been organized and mustered into service at Camp Meigs, Readville. Three more were mustered on April 23, and the remaining three on May 13. The men were obtained, not only from every part of Massachusetts, but from many other states as well, recruiting stations having been established through the efforts of Gov. Andrew from Boston to St. Louis. No bounty was offered the men to enlist, though the state afterwards paid each man $50. More than enough men to fill the regiment had been recruited, and the surplus went to form the 55th. Much attention was given the matter of the selection of proper officers, Capt. Robert B. Shaw, of the 2nd Mass. infantry, being placed in charge of the regiment during its formation. Capt. N. P. Hallowell, of the 20th Mass. infantry, was commissioned lieutenant-colonel at the same time, but was later placed in command of the 55th, and did not serve with the 54th. Some of the other officers were also assigned to the 55th, so that the regiment left the state with an incomplete roster of officers. The regimental rolls show a total of 78 officers and 1,369 enlisted men. During a term of service lasting more than two years, it lost 5 officers and 88 enlisted men killed or died of wounds; 1 officer and 106 enlisted men by accident or disease; 34 died as prisoners, and 43 were reported missing. Only 39 men deserted. On May 28, 1863, the regiment left the state, under orders to report to Gen. Hunter, commanding the Department of the South. Col. Shaw reported his regiment at Hihon Head, S. C, on June 3, and the same day proceeded to Beaufort. A few days later the regiment was ordered to St. Simon's island, Ga., where it reported to Col. James Montgomery of the 2nd S. C. While here it took part in an expedition up the Altamaha river to Darien, in which the town was burned by order of Col. Montgomery against the wishes of the officers and men of the 54th. It returned to Hilton Head on June 25, and formed part of Gen. A. H. Terry's expedition to James island in July. It went into action for the first time at Secessionville, where it received the brunt of the enemy's attack and performed its duty gallantly. Its loss was 45 in killed, wounded and missing. It reached Morris island on the evening of July 18, exhausted by the hardships endured during the last few days, loss of sleep and lack of rations. It now numbered some 600 effective men, and was ordered to lead that night the assault on Fort Wagner. This duty it nobly performed, advancing to the outer works under a galling fire of artillery and musketry and planting the regimental colors on the parapet. Here, during a desperate hand-to-hand fight, Col. Shaw was slain and Lieut.- Col. Hallowell severely wounded. The struggle was soon seen to be hopeless and the attacking forces were withdrawn. The remnant of the regiment, together with a few of the fugitive men from the other commands, was rallied about 700 yards from the fort by Capt. Emilio, the only officer left above the grade of lieutenant not killed or wounded. This position was held throughout the night in expectation of a sortie by the enemy and in the morning the 54th was relieved by the 10th Conn. Its total loss in killed, wounded and missing had been 261. It remained on duty in the trenches, and in fatigue duty, throughout the siege. When the fort was evacuated on Sept. 7, it was among the first to enter the fort. Col. E. N. Hallowell took active command of the regiment Oct. 17, having recovered from his wounds received during the assault of July 18. The ranks of the regiment, at this time, had been augmented by 100 recruits from the North, and by the return of many of the convalescents. It was engaged in strengthening the works until January of the following year, when it formed part of the expedition to Florida under Gen. Seymour, participating in the battle of Olustee. By its gallant action, while serving as rear-guard during the withdrawal of Seymour's main body, it did much to prevent an utter rout. Of about 500 men engaged, it lost 87 in killed, wounded and missing. It returned to Morris island on April 18 and remained there throughout the succeeding summer and autumn. Until Sept. 28, 1864, the men had steadily refused to accept the $10 a month offered them, and in consequence had not received a dollar of pay. At this time they were paid the full amount of $13 a month to which they were fairly entitled, receiving in gross $160,000, of which they are reported to have sent home two-thirds to their families. Eight companies, under Lieut. -Col. Hooper, moved to Hilton Head in November. and were assigned to Col. Hartwell's 2nd brigade, as part of the coast division under Gen. Hatch. Moving to Boyd's neck on Broad river with this division on the 29th, six companies were engaged at Honey hill on the 30th and formed part of the reserve at Deveaux neck, Dec. 9. The division then moved to Graham's neck and Pocotaligo and entered Charleston, Feb. 27, 1865, where it found Cos. B and F, which had been left at Morris island. It is worthy of record that Sergt. Stephen A. Swails, of Elmira, N. Y., was mustered into his position of 2nd lieutenant, Jan. 25, by order of the war department. He had received his commission long before from Gov. Andrew and was one of the first colored commissioned officers in the service. Four others were commissioned before the regiment was mustered out. The regiment moved to Savannah in March, and remained there until the 27th. It arrived in Georgetown, S. C, on the 31st, formed part of a provisional division under Gen. Potter for an expedition into central South Carolina in April, which was absent for 20 days, constantly skirmishing and marching. On the 17th the enemy was met in some force at Boykin's mill, the 54th losing 2 killed and 20 wounded. It returned to Georgetown on the 25th and to Charleston on May 6, and then served by detachments on guard and garrison duty in various parts of the state until Aug. 17. Three days later it was mustered out of service at Mount Pleasant and reached Boston in two detachments on the 26th and 28th. On Sept. 1 the men were paid and discharged on Galloupe's island, and after marching through the streets of Boston were finally disbanded on Boston Common.

Regimental history taken from "The Union Army" by Federal Publishing Company, 1908 - Volume 1

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