Events to mark attack by Mass. regiment

In this 2012 photo, Civil War reenactors in Folly Beach, S.C., prepared for a ceremony honoring the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.


In this 2012 photo, Civil War reenactors in Folly Beach, S.C., prepared for a ceremony honoring the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Just after the nation marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, considered the turning point of the Civil War, six days of events next week commemorate a lesser-known fight that helped put to rest the myth that black soldiers could not fight.

Thursday is the 150th anniversary of the ill-fated 1863 attack by the black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry on Confederate Battery Wagner on Charleston Harbor, an attack chronicled in the movie ‘‘Glory.’’


While the attack was unsuccessful, the valor of the black troops of the unit raised in Boston dispelled the thought, common in both North and South, that blacks could not fight. It also encouraged enlistment of another 200,000 black troops in the Union Army.

On Thursday, more than 50 black reenactors from five states and the District of Columbia travel by boat to Morris Island, where they will fire a salute and lay a wreath in honor of the fallen.

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On Thursday evening, at about the hour of the attack, there will be a concert of Civil War music at Fort Moultrie on Sullivans Island. Then 294 lamps will be lit on a field honoring those both North and South who perished at Wagner.

Scholars and authors gather at the historic Dock Street Theatre Saturday to discuss the 1863 Charleston campaign. On Sunday, a monument to the fallen at Battery Wagner will be dedicated on Charleston’s Battery. During the week, there will be living history events including musket firings, drills and talks at Moultrie.

Of the 600 black troops who charged the battery, 218 were killed, wounded, or captured. The 54th later served in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida before returning to Massachusetts after the war ended.


Stephen Wise, the museum curator at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, S.C., who has written a book on the Charleston campaign, said there were questions in 1863 about the fighting ability of blacks.

‘‘There were black regiments fighting elsewhere long before the 54th existed. But you have the 54th raised as a show regiment to promote the use of black troops,’’ he said. ‘‘Had it failed, black troops would have been more or less [relegated] to garrison duty and labor battalions and not active combat.’’

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