This Week's Story

A clever confederate strategy confronts the union's 54th Regiment of black NCO's and white officers, but their charge continues.

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: The 54th's Record of Tenacious Courage, part four

Waiting was over. The 54th Regiment with 900 of its black soldiers were crammed into two small steamers moving toward Charleston. Soon they would be in deadly combat leading the charge to Fort Wagner.

Four warships and eleven troop ships travelled with them. The sea stormed and rain poured. Thunder pounded drums and lightning ripped through darkness.

The soldiers were rain-soaked, hungry, and thirsty. Their bodies dripped with sweat.

The 54th reached an island harbor. Sounds of battle could be heard. News came that another attack against Fort Wagner had failed. The men landed and set up camp. Heat blasted their faces.

Pickets from the 54th Regiment and the 10th Connecticut Regiment were sent to watch Confederate movements and warn of attack. It was the first time the 54th and white troops had worked together. The Connecticut Regiment had no way to retreat if the Confederates broke through the 54th’s line.

Shadows were briefly visible. Dawn came with an attack. Five regiments of Rebels hurled themselves at the 54th. The Rebel battle cry mixed with weapons clashing and guns firing.

The 54th’s fierce fighting gave the 10th Connecticut Regiment just the time they needed to escape the swamp behind them. The 54th lost 42 men, a terrific low count and proof of the regiment’s skill and courage. A Boston reporter wrote, “Had the 54th given way, the retreat of the 10th would have been cut off, and they would have been absolutely annihilated or captured.”

Sergeant Simmons of the 54th wrote his mother, “We fought a desperate battle….God has protected me through this, my first fiery leaden trial, and I do give him the glory, and render praises unto His holy name….God bless you all! Goodbye! Likely we shall be engaged again soon. Your affectionate son, R.J. Simmons.”

Within two days the 54th was leading the attack. It would be impossible to take Charleston without taking Fort Wagner. The fort’s walls were thirty feet high and contained fourteen heavy artillery pieces.

Cannons from eleven Union warships in the harbor pounded Fort Wagner for eleven hours. Some cannon shells were 150 pounds. Smoke filled the air. Union commanders believed that the fort had been heavily damaged. No sound came from the fort. No Confederate soldier could be seen.

It was a clever ruse. The fort’s big guns had been buried. Most of the Confederate soldiers were in bombproof shelters. After the Union bombardment all the Confederate guns were working. Only eight men out of almost 1,700 Confederates had been killed.

The Union heavy guns in the harbor stopped firing. Silence. Two lines of the 54th began running. Confederates fired guns and threw grenades as the 54th soldiers stumbled through holes and spikes up the slope directly into enemy fire. The 54th held their line, saving their ammunition for the final charge.

Colonel Shaw led his men to the top and called, “Rally! Rally!” He fell and his men began firing, knowing death was better than slavery.

This is Scott Thomas for Barbara Steiner.

For more stories go to

<< 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]