The story of the black men, slaves and free, of the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Infantry, some of the greatest fighters of the Civil War.
Egerton (History/Le Moyne Coll.; The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America's Most Progressive Era, 2014, etc.) understands that these men fought more for nationality and citizenship than to preserve the union. Their success in 1863 at Battery Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina, showed the world their mettle. Overcoming the racism just as inherent in the North as the South was an even bigger battle. After the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, Massachusetts Gov. John Andrew was permitted to form the first black regiment. Congress would not, however, allow black officers, doctors, or ministers. Consequently, Robert Gould Shaw and Ned and Pen Hallowell, Philadelphia Quakers, became the leaders of the 54th and the 55th regiments, and Charles Adams Jr. led the 5th Cavalry. Adams’ regiment formed late in the war, and his leadership did not allow room for respect for his black men. Also included in the forces were two sons of Frederick Douglass: Lewis, whose wounds at Wagner ended his fighting days, and Charles, whose literacy led him to become the camp clerk. The Confederacy ruled that any blacks caught would be turned over to the state—no doubt to be reduced to slaves, no matter their background. The policy toward white leaders was that they were to be executed. The men saw how the Rebels treated blacks who tried to surrender; they were shot. After a battle, Rebel soldiers systematically walked among the wounded, executing any black soldiers. In this welcome addition to Civil War literature, Egerton gives readers a greater appreciation for their courage.
A thoroughly researched, comprehensive look at the Civil War regiments who took the first step in the struggle to make their countrymen see them as intelligent, capable men.