Midpoint of the War: May to July 1863

Verdict of the Newspapers

When was the first significant and well-reported use of African American soldiers?

Perhaps it is only coincidence that the first well-known use of black soldiers came in the same week as the New York City draft riots, but there were many ardent abolitionists who believed that the synchronicity was more like the hand of God. On July 18, 1863, as the riots just began to subdue, the federal forces outside of Charleston made a major attempt to capture Battery Wagner.

By chance and error it is often called Fort Wagner, but it was really a battery of Confederate cannon pointed directly out to sea and positioned very near the southern end of Charleston Harbor. As long as the Confederates held this position, they could hold off the largest of federal ships, even the ironclads, from the harbor.

The all-black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, shown here in a painting commissioned by the U.S. government, performed heroically at Battery Wagner, where they led the charge against the Confederates.


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