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June 13, 1863: First black regiment deploys to South Carolina

Jun. 13, 2013 - 03:19PM   |  
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The first regiment of black soldiers enlisted into the Union cause is bound for fighting along the Carolina coast, Military Times has learned.

The 54th Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteers is the first unit of its kind. It began to mobilize shortly after U.S. President Abraham Lincoln opened the door for those of African descent to serve in the Union Army and Navy earlier this year.

In addition to “freeing” slaves in rebel-controlled states, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, issued just over six months ago, orders that “such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts.”

Experts estimate some 180,000 black troops could serve in the U.S. military by war’s end.

The men of the 54th Regiment, however, are the first. Drawing troops from 24 states — including five Confederate states — the unit was presented with its regimental colors on May 28 by the Massachusetts governor after several months of pre-deployment workups in the Boston area.

The regiment is expected to be part of the Federal push to capture the rebel bastion of Charleston, S.C., considered by many the birthplace of the Confederacy. To get there, however, they will have to face the city’s formidable harbor defenses, including the island strongholds of Fort Wagner and Fort Sumter, the very powder keg that ignited the War Between the States two years ago.

“It would be a glory day to fight anywhere near that ground,” one private was overheard saying as the 54th Regiment prepared to ship out from Boston aboard the transport ship De Molay, bound Beaufort, S.C. “It would be glory indeed.”

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