"A deserted homestead is always a sad sight, but here in the South we must look a little deeper than the surface, and then we see that every such overgrown plantation and empty house is a harbinger of freedom to the slaves, and every lover of his country, even if he have no feeling for the slaves themselves, should rejoice." (Robert Gould Shaw)
From the Stonewall Brigade to the Iron Brigade, Americans have long been fascinated by the Civil War's most famous and legendary units, and many are familiar with the 20th Maine's defense of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg. But ironically, today, the most famous regiment of the entire war is perhaps the 54th Massachusetts, which was one of the first and ultimately the best known regiment that consisted of black soldiers.
Like most black soldiers, the 54th received discriminatory treatment from the army, as white men on both sides were wary of trusting black soldiers in heavy combat situations, despite the fact that the 54th acquitted itself well in a nearly suicidal attack at Fort Wagner. As a result the 54th fought in several battles of lesser note, and they might have faded into obscurity if not for the critically acclaimed movie Glory, which looked at the lives of its commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, and its soldiers. Ironically, though it was unknown at the time of the movie, one of the soldiers in the regiment told his captors he had fought for glory.
The movie made the 54th famous, and those who are familiar with the regiment are also familiar with its attack on Fort Wagner, but the story of its creation and its entire service during the Civil War is remarkable from start to finish.