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The 54th Massachusetts Regiment was one of the first official Black units in the United States armed forces, an infantry regiment that fought in the American Civil War. Black troops had fought alongside George Washington in the Revolutionary War and under Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812, but were not organized as formal military units.

The regiment, organized in March 1863 by the Governor of Massachusetts, John A. Andrew, and commanded by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, sprang to life after the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton decided white officers would be in charge of all "colored" units, and Colonel Shaw was chosen by Gov. Andrew himself. The rest of the officers were painstakingly evaluated by Shaw. The soldiers were recruited by white abolitionists, later known as "The Black Committee." Soon afterwards, a second black regiment, the 55th Massachusetts, was organized and began training.

The 54th left Boston to fight for the Union on May 28, 1863, starting off doing only manual labor. The regiment gained dishonor in a raid on the town of Darien, Georgia, after being ordered to loot and burn the town by Col. James Montgomery. However, the regiment soon gained international fame on July 18, 1863, when it fronted an assault on Fort Wagner near Charleston, South Carolina. Of the six hundred men that stormed Fort Wagner, one hundred and sixteen, including Colonel Shaw, were killed. Another hundred and fifty-six were wounded or captured. Although the Union was not able to take and hold the fort, the 54th was widely acclaimed for its valor, and the event helped encourage the further enlistment and mobilization of African-American troops, a key development that President Abraham Lincoln once noted as helping to secure the final victory. Decades later, Sergeant William Harvey Carney, who grabbed the US flag as the flag bearer fell and carried the flag to the enemy ramparts and back during the attack,

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