This Week's Story

The worst rioting in U.S. history and the sacrifice of the 54th Regiment mark July 1863.

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 Gave Lives and Rioters Stole Lives, part five

Clara Barton, pioneer wartime nurse, went to the battle for Fort Wagner. She wanted to be sure that white nurses gave as good care to the wounded black soldiers as they did to the wounded white soldiers.

She reported that the wounded black soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment were the “quietest, most uncomplaining patients that she had seen.”

After the attempt to capture Fort Wagner, Governor Andrews received a letter reading, “Could anyone from the North see these brave fellows as they lie here, his prejudice against them, if he had any, would all pass away.”

Sergeant Simmons, of the 54th, was wounded, captured, and put in Charleston Jail along with many black and white prisoners. He was taken to a prison hospital where his injured arm was amputated. A few days later he died before receiving a medal of honor for bravery.

A thousand miles north from the 54th’s sacrifice, anti-black riots

had begun in New York City. They were the worst in the history of the United States! Congress had passed the first draft law in the country’s existence.

July 12, 1863 the names of the first men to be drafted appeared in newspapers. Many of the press, politicians, and businessmen encouraged protests.

Rioters shouted, “Down with rich men!” “Down with police!” “Down with the draft!” “Why should we fight for black men to be free? The freed ones will take our jobs.”

The rioters’ hate turned to chasing black people. They were hanged, chased into water where they drowned. Others hid in swamps, and some sought safety in police stations. Even the police had trouble defending themselves.

233 black orphans were in an asylum. A mob broke in and the children were taken out the back door. Looters burned the four-story building down, though firemen tried to save it.

To bring order Union Army troops were rushed to New York from the Battle of Gettysburg. Rioting lasted four days.

Sergeant Simmons’ mother, sister, and her two children could not escape from a mob. Her son was physically handicapped. He was beaten with paving stones. A fireman grabbed him and took him to the home of a family who nursed him, but the child died.

As the home of Colonel Shaw’s father was threatened by rioters, Colonel Shaw, the white commander of the 54th was stumbling through a swamp bound for Fort Wagner. Soon he would die and be thrown by Rebels into a pit with others of the 54th.

In that pit there was dignity. When the Colonel could have been reburied, his father refused, saying, “I shall therefore be much obliged, general, if… you will forbid the desecration of my son’s grave, and prevent the disturbance of his remains or those buried with him.”

Today the remains of Colonel Shaw and others of the 54th are covered by the ocean. Their record of black suffering and triumph, and of blacks and whites who fought together, remains.

This is Scott Thomas for Barbara Steiner. Investigate the stories at

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