Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment

National Gallery of Art

The 54th Massachusetts had strong New York connections–Frederick Douglass’ two sons and the grandson of abolitionist Sojourner Truth enlisted with this regiment. “In 1862 Congress agreed to [Black] enlistment and more than 186,000 African-American men signed up. They were not paid as much as white soldiers or were not paid at all, were given poor equipment, and often ran out of supplies. To make matters worse, Confederate soldiers threatened to enslave or kill any Black soldiers they captured, and kill their white commanders. Overcoming these hardships, Black soldiers proved themselves heroically in battle. They led raids, served as spies and scouts, fought in battles, and faced some of the worst confrontations in the war.”

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