September 25, 1997
"The Fifty-Fourth Did Well and Nobly..."
-- Edward L. Pierce, correspondent for the New York Tribune, to Governor John A. Andrew, July 22, 1863
Washington, DC. . . The following is a document alert -- part of a program sponsored by the National Archives to notify the media of documents in the National Archives holdings that are relevant to national holidays, anniversaries or current events. This program which is based on original records from the National Archives, its nine Presidential libraries and 10 regional centers, is designed to offer the media an historical perspective on events that occur periodically and to highlight historical antecedents to current political, diplomatic or cultural initiatives.
Given the recent interest in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment with the installation of Saint-Gaudensí monumental sculpture at the National Gallery of Art and the dedication of the African-American Civil War Memorial in the Washington, DC Shaw neighborhood next spring, this is an ideal opportunity for the media to view some of the original records of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment which are in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration. In the January 1, 1863, Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln announced that black men would be accepted into the U.S. Army and Navy. Of the estimated 2 million people that fought on the Union side, some 180,000 black soldiers and sailors fought for the Union and for freedom during the Civil War. The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment was one of the most celebrated regiments of black soldiers that fought in the Civil War. Known simply as "the 54th," it became famous after the heroic, but ill-fated, assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina. Leading the direct assault under heavy fire, the 54th suffered enormous casualties before being forced to withdraw. The courage and sacrifice of the regiment helped to dispel doubt within the Union Army about the fighting ability of black soldiers and earned the 54th undying battlefield glory. The 1989 film "Glory" is based on this story.
Among the records relating to the 54th in the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration is the casualty list of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment from the assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina, July 16-18, 1863. Of the 600 men that charged Fort Wagner, 272 were killed, wounded or captured. Muster rolls for commissioned officers, field and staff from March of 1863 to August of 1865; regimental and company descriptive books and company morning reports are also part of the collection. This material is also available on microfilm.
To research these records, contact the National Archives Textual Reference Branch at (202) 501-5385.
For additional PRESS information, please contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at (301) 837-1700 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.