Letters From an American

Black Soldiers Win the Battle of Fort Wagner, July 18, 1863

Black Soldiers Win the Battle of Fort Wagner, July 18, 1863

"The 54th Massachusetts regiment, under the leadership of Colonel Shaw in the attack on Fort Wagner, Morris Island, South Carolina, in 1863," mural at the Recorder of Deeds building, built in 1943. 515 D St., NW, Washington, D.C.

July 18, 2020

Today was a relatively quiet news day as the nation mourned the loss of Representative John Lewis, so you can ignore this post at will without feeling like you’re going to miss out.

But for those of you who don’t mind a little hist

Company E, 4th US Colored Troops at Fort Lincoln, November 17, 1865 (LOC]

The Battle of Fort Wagner left 30 men of the 54th dead on the field — including Colonel Shaw — and hurt 24 more so badly they would later die from their wounds. Fifteen were captured; 52 were missing and presumed dead. Another 149 were wounded. Confederates hoped to dishonor Colonel Shaw when they buried him in a mass grave with his men; instead, the family found it fitting.

In 2017, I had the chance to spend an evening in the house where the wounded soldiers of the 54th were taken after the battle.

It is a humbling thing to stand on that street that still looks so much like it did in 1863, and to realize that the men, carried hot and exhausted and bleeding and scared into that house a century and a half before were just people like you and me, who did what they felt they had to in front of Fort Wagner, and then endured the boat ride back to Beaufort, and got carried up these steps, and then lay on their cots in the small, crowded rooms of this house, and hoped that what they had done was worth the horrific cost.

I am not one for ghosts, but I swear you could feel the blood in the floors.

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Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter Letters from an American. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.