Today is the 150th anniversary of the Union’s Second Assault on Battery Wagner, South Carolina. Union General Quincy Gillmore headed the campaign in July 1863 to take Fort Wagner on Morris Island, which protected the Charleston harbor.
Leading the Union infantry charge was the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, one of the first official African-American units in the Civil War, commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw. 281 men of the 54th Massachusetts died in the assault, including Colonel Shaw, who was buried with the dead of his regiment.
Although the Union assault was unsuccessful, the performance of the 54th stood out for their courage and valor. Two days after the failed assault, Lewis Douglass, son of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, wrote to his fiancée Amelia Loguen, praising his unit’s performance.
The 54th Massachussetts’ story is memorialized in the movie Glory (1989), starring Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, and Morgan Freeman, available in the library.