Kurz & Allison Lithography Company, c. 1880 - 1899
Robert Gould Shaw, 10 Oct 1837 - 18 Jul 1863
Chromolithograph on paper
Mount: 62.4 × 80cm (24 9/16 × 31 1/2")
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Storming Fort Wagner
As the first black regiment to be organized in a Northern state, the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Colored Regiment included recruits from twenty-five states as well as Canada. In late May 1863, under the leadership of its white commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the Fifty-Fourth was ordered to the South Carolina coast to prepare to take the city of Charleston. Fort Wagner, the heavily fortified Confederate bastion that guarded Charleston’s main shipping channel, was the regiment’s target. The Fifty-Fourth began its attack at dusk on July 18, 1863.
Despite withering Confederate fire that decimated their ranks and killed Colonel Shaw, the men of the Fifty-Fourth bravely mounted two assaults before the fort’s defenders drove them back. Although a defeat for Union forces, the admirable performance of the Fifty-Fourth laid to rest any lingering doubts about African American soldiers’ fitness for battle.