Black and White Helped Save The Red White and Blue --Tribute to the Massachusetts 54th Regiment --Final Salute To Real Memorial Day Heroes
Perhaps you saw the award winning movie, “Glory” when it debuted in 1989 or later on DVD or On Demand. Starring Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick and Morgan Freeman, the film celebrates the heroic efforts of one of the first all Black regiments during the Civil War. The Massachusetts 54th Regiment victories came at a heavy price, including the death of their White commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw who died during the 1863 attack of Fort Wagner, South Carolina. The men who fought and died helped to ultimately win the Civil War, and their struggles, setbacks and amazing levels of courage should never be forgotten.
I often pass the monument that was erected on Beacon Street in Boston across from the Massachusetts State House. It pays tribute to the men of the 54th who fought, lived and died so that ultimately all men and women could be free in America.
As we close out our tribute to Memorial Day, we pay tribute those who sacrificed their lives in all wars fought by Americans. We pay a special tribute to the Civil War era men of the Massachusetts 54th Regiment.
Read More About Them Below…
-Carole Copeland Thomas
The Massachusetts 54th Regiment
The Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Memorial, located across Beacon Street from the State House, serves as a reminder of the heavy cost paid by individuals and families during the Civil War. In particular, it serves as a memorial to the group of men who were among the first African Americans to fight in that war. Although African Americans served in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, northern racist sentiments kept African Americans from taking up arms for the United States in the early years of the Civil War. However, a clause in Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation made possible the organization of African American volunteer regiments. The first documented African American regiment formed in the north was the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry, instituted under Governor John Andrew in 1863. African American men came to enlist from every region of the north, and from as far away as the Caribbean. Robert Gould Shaw was the man Andrew chose to lead this regiment.
Robert G. Shaw was the only son of Francis George and Sarah Blake (née Sturgis) Shaw. The Shaws were a wealthy and well connected New York and Boston family. They were also radical abolitionists and Unitarians. Robert did not blindly follow his parents ideological and religious beliefs, but all recognized the importance and responsibility involved in leading the Massachusetts 54th Regiment.
The Massachusetts 54th Regiment became famous and solidified their place in history following the attack on Fort Wagner, South Carolina on July 18, 1863. At least 74 enlisted men and 3 officers were killed in that battle, and scores more were wounded. Colonel Shaw was one of those killed. Sergeant William H. Carney, who was severely injured in the battle, saved the regiment’s flag from being captured. He was the first African American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The 54th Regiment also fought in an engagement on James Island, the Battle of Olustee, and at Honey Hill, South Carolina before their return to Boston in September 1865. Only 598 of the original 1,007 men who enlisted were there to take part in the final ceremonies on the Boston Common. In the last two years of the war, it is estimated that over 180,000 African Americans served in the Union forces and were instrumental to the Union’s victory.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens took nearly fourteen years to complete this high-relief bronze monument, which celebrates the valor and sacrifices of the Massachusetts 54th. Saint-Gaudens was one of the premier artists of his day. He grew up in New York and Boston, but received formal training at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts Paris. In New York, forty men were hired to serve as models for the soldiers’ faces. Colonel Shaw is shown on horseback and three rows of infantry men march behind. This scene depicts the 54th Regiment marching down Beacon Street on May 28, 1863 as they left Boston to head south. The monument was paid for by private donations and was unveiled in a ceremony on May 31, 1897.
Sources: National Park Service
One of the major battles and turning points of the Civi War was the Battle of Gettysburg fought over three days from July 1-3 1863. It marked the turning point in the War Between The States, giving the Union Army the winning advantage in the months and years that would remain.
Bloody and hard fought, both sides extracted terrible losses in the dead, wounded and missing. It has gone down in history as one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War and has been associated with one of the reasons why Memorial Day was founded.
In November 19, 1863 at the Soldiers National Cemetery near the battlefield two great speeches were made in honor of the dead and wounded. One was the 1 hour 57 minute speech by political statesman Edward Everett of Massachusetts. He was followed by the speech that lasted less than three minutes…made by President Abraham Lincoln. The President’s speech was so short that the photographers didn’t have time to set up their cameras to take pictures of him delivering his message.
It didn’t matter. It was so profound that it has gone down to become one of the greatest speeches in American history, recited by politicians and school children alike, including my daughter, Lorna, when she was in middle school.
Below are the highlights of The Battle of Gettysburg. As you continue with your picnics, barbecues and visions of the upcoming summer season, think on these words and why Memorial Day will forever honor those who died in military service in America.
-Carole Copeland Thomas, MBA, CDMP
The Battle of Gettysburg
Fought over the first three days of July 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg was one of the most crucial battles of the Civil War. The fate of the nation literally hung in the balance that summer of 1863 when General Robert E. Lee, commanding the "Army of Northern Virginia", led his army north into Maryland and Pennsylvania, bringing the war directly into northern territory. The Union "Army of the Potomac", commanded by Major General George Gordon Meade, met the Confederate invasion near the Pennsylvania crossroads town of Gettysburg,and what began as a chance encounter quickly turned into a desperate, ferocious battle. Despite initial Confederate successes, the battle turned against Lee on July 3rd, and with few options remaining, he ordered his army to return to Virginia. The Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, sometimes referred to as the "High Water Mark of the Rebellion" resulted not only in Lee's retreat to Virginia, but an end to the hopes of the Confederate States of America for independence.
The battle involved the largest number of casualties of the entire war and is often described as the war's turning point.Union Maj. Gen. George Meade's Army of the Potomac defeated attacks by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, ending Lee's attempt to invade the North.
The battle brought devastation to the residents of Gettysburg. Every farm field or garden was a graveyard. Churches, public buildings and even private homes were hospitals, filled with wounded soldiers. The Union medical staff that remained were strained to treat so many wounded scattered about the county. To meet the demand, Camp Letterman General Hospital was established east of Gettysburg where all of the wounded were eventually taken to before transport to permanent hospitals in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington. Union surgeons worked with members of the U.S Sanitary Commission and Christian Commission to treat and care for the over 20,000 injured Union and Confederate soldiers that passed through the hospital's wards, housed under large tents. By January 1864, the last patients were gone as were the surgeons, guards, nurses, tents and cookhouses. Only a temporary cemetery on the hillside remained as a testament to the courageous battle to save lives that took place at Camp Letterman.
How many casualties were there in the Battle of Gettysburg?
How many people died at Gettysburg?
Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Until Gettysburg that title had gone to the Battle of Chancellorsville, fought just two months before. And although later battles such as The Wilderness and Spotsylvania would surpass Chancellorsville, Gettysburg would remain the costliest Civil War battle.
It is estimated that there were at least 45,000 and possibly as many as 51,000 casualties in the two armies at Gettysburg. Note: the term “casualties” means not just people who were killed, but also includes men who were wounded (many of whom may have died of their wounds later), soldiers who were captured, and even men who ran away. It’s impossible to calculate an exact number because of missing or incomplete records. This estimate is one of the more conservative and probably significantly understates Confederate missing and wounded:
Were any civilians killed in the Battle of Gettysburg?
Hundreds of civilians sheltered in their homes as the fighting raged around them and one, John Burns, joined the fight and was wounded. But only one civilian, Jennie Wade, was killed during the Battle of Gettysburg. She was struck by a stray shot while indoors in a house on the south side of town caring for a sick relative.
Honoring The Dead After The Fight Had Ended
Prominent Gettysburg residents became concerned with the poor condition of soldiers' graves scattered over the battlefield and at hospital sites, and pleaded with Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin for state support to purchase a portion of the battlefield to be set aside as a final resting place for the defenders of the Union cause. Gettysburg lawyer David Wills was appointed the state agent to coordinate the establishment of the new "Soldiers' National Cemetery," which was designed by noted landscape architect William Saunders. Removal of the Union dead to the cemetery began in the fall of 1863, but would not be completed until long after the cemetery grounds were dedicated on November 19, 1863. The dedication ceremony featured orator Edward Everett and included solemn prayers, songs, dirges to honor the men who died at Gettysburg. Yet, it was President Abraham Lincoln who provided the most notable words in his two-minute long address, eulogizing the Union soldiers buried at Gettysburg and reminding those in attendance of their sacrifice for the Union cause, that they should renew their devotion "to the cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion..”
The US National Park Service
Battle of Gettysburg Facts: http://gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/battle-of-gettysburg-facts
Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who died in service to their country. The holiday was officially proclaimed in 1868 to honor Union and Confederate soldiers and was expanded after World War I to honor those who died in all wars. Today, Memorial Day honors over one million men and women who have died in military service since the Civil War.
By the 20th century, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions, celebrated on different days, had merged, and Memorial Day eventually extended to honor all Americans who died while in the military service. It typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end.
Memorial Day is not to be confused with Veterans Day; Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, while Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans.
My Memories: Town Gatherings, Celebrations, Parades and The Gettysburg Address
Remembering the Gettysburg Address is frequently a symbolic part of Memorial Day traditions. Years ago my daughter, Lorna, recited the Gettysburg Address during a town wide program, while her sister, Michelle, and brother, Mikey, played the flute and saxophone with the school band. I believe the program took place in the town cemetery to honor our war dead.
From Decoration Day To Memorial Day
What is “decorated?” Gravestones and cemetery plots of deceased soldiers who died in military service.
Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries.
The preferred name for the holiday gradually changed from "Decoration Day" to "Memorial Day", which was first used in 1882. It did not become more common until after World War II, and was not declared the official name by Federal law until 1967. On June 28, 1968, the Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May. The law took effect at the federal level in 1971. After some initial confusion and unwillingness to comply, all 50 states adopted Congress' change of date within a few years.
Sources: www.census.gov and wikipedia.org
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©2023 All Rights Reserved Carole Copeland Thomas • (508) 947-5755 • Carole@mssconnect.com