African Americans were not allowed to serve as soldiers in the Union armies during the first half of the Civil War (1861-1865). In January 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect. Governor John Andrew of Massachusetts issued a call for African American volunteers a month later. Most of the unit's troops did not come from Massachusetts. Robert Gould Shaw, scion of a wealthy abolitionist family, was appointed commander.
By going to war, the African American soldiers were trying to make a point. They wanted to prove that they were the equal of whites. They viewed it as an opportunity to demonstrate they deserved freedom and equal rights as citizens in the United States. They were brave: the South had proclaimed that captured African American troops would be enslaved.
The 54th was not only fighting for racial equality: it also fought for equal pay. White soldiers were paid more than their African American counterparts. Both African American soldiers and their white officers...
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