This Week's Story

subscribe to podcast [click here] or play audio below

One thousand black soldiers in 54th regiment choose to fight, despite unfair pay, terrible weather, and lack of sleep and food.

This Week’s Story relives American history and the Bible through brief inspiring stories presented on mp3 audio recordings and text for reading.

Civil War: into the fire, part three

An unusual cargo of Union soldiers moved by ship down the United States coast. Aboard were 1,000 black soldiers and 29 white officers. These men were the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It was the first regiment of black soldiers formed by the express permission of President Lincoln and his cabinet. The 54th’s objective would be to lead an attack on Fort Wagner. The fort protected the city of Charleston!

Charleston was the heart of the Confederacy--known for beauty, wealth, the auction of thousands of slaves, and smuggling operations for the Confederates. It was a center for passing weapons and supplies by water and land for the South.

The biggest concern of the 54th was to rescue slaves. As the 54th Regiment was aboard ship, there were men, women, and children in pens in Charleston being held until their auction.

The 54th landed on Hilton Head. Soon they were ordered on a mission led by Colonel Montgomery, a soldier known for cruelty to Confederates and his own men. Colonel Shaw, commander of the 54th was unhappy to be under his command.

The gunboats shelled the city. Then Montgomery’s men and the 54th were ordered to plunder and take whatever they wanted. Shaw changed the order for his men, even though Colonel Montgomery was his superior. Shaw told his men. “Take only what is needed at camp.”

By Montgomery’s order the lovely town of Darien was burned. One company of the 54th was forced to participate. Shaw protested. Montgomery replied, “I am happy to take the responsibility on my shoulders. The Southerners must be made to feel that this is a real war, and they [must} be swept away by the hand of God.” The men of the 54th stood by silently as the fires were set.

About one month after the 54th left Boston they were mustered to be paid for the first time. Many had families at home depending on money from their husbands and fathers. When the blacks were paid, they discovered that they would not be paid equal pay with whites.

Instead of receiving $13.00 a month plus a clothing allowance like the whites, they would be given $10.00 a month like laborers, not soldiers. Their clothing allowance was $3.00 to be taken from their regular pay.

Colonel Shaw wrote Governor Andrew, “The men enlisted on the specific understanding that they were to be on the same footing as all other Massachusetts troops.” The men refused to be paid the reduced pay, despite the suffering it caused for them and their families.

Shaw went further, “The men should be mustered out of the service or receive the full pay which was promised them.”

It was a year and a half before Congress paid the recruits fairly. To the admiration of many observers, the black soldiers still wanted to go into battle.

Another delay occurred when the 54th had to fight with terrible weather, swamp, lack of sleep, and pathetic amounts of food. Then they began the formidable charge on Fort Wagner.

Join us for the final ascent to the fort.

This is Scott Thomas for Barbara Steiner inviting you to listen to thisweeksstory.com.

<< previous story] [next story >>


We invite your comments!  [click here to comment]

Let's Talk


Facebook Join the conversation.

This Week's Story is a non-profit supported by listeners. [click here to make a donation with ]